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Friday, December 9, 2016

The very fine public servant, Russ Feingold, cautioned against the steady slippage of our democracy toward autocracy back in October 2001, when he stood tall as the only U.S. senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act. Warning that its anti-democratic provisions would create a nation “where the government is entitled to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications.” Feingold rightly concluded, “That country wouldn’t be America.”

So here we are, having devolved from the founders’ principled insistence on erecting the strongest palisades for the defense of the people’s personal liberties — to now having a secret government inside our borders and inside our lives. The National Security Agency is running a labyrinthine, secret, extravagant, unconstitutional and out-of-control electronic surveillance operation that targets you.

Yes, you! And me. Its not just German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other head-of-state allies who are furious that this voracious nest of snoops has been listening in on their private conversations for years, but also everyone living in our own Land of the Free. We citizens have been redefined by our government as suspects.

Not that NSA officialdom actually thinks that you, Mr. Upright or Ms. Do-Right, are terrorists or even “persons of interest” — but, then again, you might be. So, the spook bureaucracy has unilaterally chosen to create an elaborate, electronic Rube Goldberg-ish spy matrix that (A) appropriates and agglomerates everyone’s “metadata” — a geek term defined as data that provides information about other data — channels it into (B) banks of rapidly spinning supercomputers that (C) analyze your and my terrorist inclinations, based on (D) the phone calls we make and get, (E) emails we send and receive, (F) websites we visit and topics we Google, (G) Facebook friends and pages we like, and (H) credit card expenditures and bank transactions we make.

Even the code names of the NSA’s array of electronic eyes are almost comically Orwellian: PRISM, Tempora, XKeyscore, and — my favorite — Boundless Informant.

Boundless indeed. But all this, and for what? To make you and me safe from terrorists, the hierarchy chants in unison. Constantly pointing to 9/11, the spies and their political henchmen solemnly assert that, hypothetically, bulk surveillance of every American might have, possibly could have, maybe would have stopped that horrific plot. But the phone conversations that mattered in that case were those that did NOT happen — the breakdown in communication between the CIA and the FBI, and between FBI headquarters and its local agents.