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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 21, 2014

 
"Take out word for it"

by digby

No, I don't think so.

Unsurprisingly, I'm with Greenwald on this. The government always traffics in boogeyman fear-mongering around these issues and at this point I think it's more than fair to be skeptical. Look at the bullshit the hawks are bandying about on Iraq right now --- insisting that ISIS's mission is to stage jihad against America when it's clearly a militant sectarian group bent on fighting Shia Muslims. Which isn't to say that it isn't a danger to the stability of the world and hence America as well in the abstract, but the idea that it's focused on attacks the US is simply untrue. But that's what they're saying. And people are buying it.

This blithe insistence on Snowden coming back to face the music like a man the way Ellsberg did is similarly nonsensical. As Ellsberg himself agrees, whistleblowers should not have to be martyrs. In fact a Supreme Court case was just decided this week that addressed the subject in a case in which a public employee had been fired for blowing the whistle on government corruption. Now, obviously, we are dealing with a different set of interests with national security information, but the principle to which the majority opinion (written by Justice Sotomayor) refers is worth thinking about when you look at the Snowden case:
Speech by citizens on matters of public concern lies at the heart of the First Amendment, which "was fashioned to assure unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people," Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476 , 484 (1957). This remains true when speech concerns information related to or learned through public employment. After all, public employees do not renounce their citizenship when they accept employment, and this Court has cautioned time and again that public employers may not condition employment on the relinquishment of constitutional rights. See, e.g., Keyishian v. Board of Regents of Univ. of State of N. Y., 385 U.S. 589 , 605 (1967); Pickering, 391 U.S., at 568 ; Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138 , 142 (1983). There is considerable value, moreover, in encouraging, rather than inhibiting, speech by public employees. For "[g]overnment employees are often in the best position to know what ails the agencies for which they work." Waters v. Churchill, 511 U.S. 661 , 674 (1994) (plurality opinion). "The interest at stake is as much the public's interest in receiving informed opinion as it is the employee's own right to disseminate it." San Diego v. Roe, 543 U.S. 77 , 82 (2004) (per curiam).

Yes, one more time,  national security brings with it different concerns. And even in this case, the subsequent paragraphs in the opinion assert that the government also has some right to control its employees so that it can do the job efficiently. The court says that a balance must be struck, so I'm not arguing that it's only a simple matter of free speech.

But the reasoning in that opinion, in which the underlying principles pertaining to free speech and the necessity of whistleblowers for an informed public are given serious weight, are potentially even more important in the Snowden case. There, we have another very serious constitutional issue because the Fourth Amendment has been rendered partially inoperable by our government secretly using surveillance technology to put every citizen under a microscope, storing the information and accessing it whenever it finds it necessary. This at least requires some kind of public debate --- a debate which would not have happened if Snowden had not done what he did. 

And as for all the alleged secret murders of Americans which the government cannot tell us about but which we are supposed to accept happened just because --- ask yourself a question. Does it really make sense that they would not find a way to let the public know that Snowden was responsible for the deaths of Americans or its allies? I'm going to guess that they would find a way. Moreover, when people who assert this claim are questioned more closely, they inevitably say that the reason this must have happened is because the terrorists now know that we are listening in on phone calls between them and US citizens and that their email could be monitored. Because of that, they will now be able to kill Americans and their allies because we won't be able to stop them. Unfortunately they've been unable to document any cases where they had managed to thwart any terrorist acts with these methods before. But they seem sure they would have eventually been able to do it so we can assume that these revelations have cost American lives. Or something.

They have been open about a major area of concern from the revelations --- the insistence that our relationships with certain foreign leaders has been compromised, which allegedly has caused some sort of rift and made the US unable to efficiently conduct foreign policy. Now, it's probable that the Brazilian leadership actually was miffed when they found out that the US was spying on Petrobas, their oil company. (We don't know exactly who that spying is supposed to benefit, but one can assume that the CEOs and investors in multi-national energy corporations are the ones with the major interest in that information. God bless America.) And it's also possible that the allegedly frosty relationship between Angela Merkel and Obama was legit, but it's a little bit more likely that they were both playing to their population's national egos.

But for the most part this whole "embarrassment" issue seems overblown. If the US isn't embarrassed at having acted like a bunch of hysterical children after 9/11 and went about invading countries that didn't attack us, I think it can weather this squall. And anyway, we're exceptional, which means we can do whatever the hell we want and if you don't like it it's just too bad. In any case,  I expect that the only people who expect that the United States will act any differently on this whole planet are ... Americans. After our behavior of the past several decades, particularly the last one, nobody else in this world is as naive about what we really do and who we really are. Not anymore. It's up to Americans to make our global military empire accountable to us and to operate with integrity, morality and adherence to the principles of the Bill of Rights. If we actually care about that, that is.

Simply buying into some blind assertion that we must allow the government to operate these programs without accountability because it's a dangerous world pretty much moots that whole inalienable rights thing. Times are always dangerous in one way or another and "protecting the nation" is the oldest excuse in the book for the abuse of government authority. That's why those guys in the white wigs wrote that stuff down in the first place.


Update: Howie has an interesting piece today about national security votes in the House yesterday.  it's a mixed bag, with one unfortunate consistency --- a cadre of Democratic Party leaders who vote the wrong way in every case.
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