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It came as a shock to many Americans that the NSA, whose intelligence gathering should be limited to foreign communications, has done domestic surveillance on such a large scale. But to the intelligence committees or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts, this is just business as usual.
According to the Washington Post, most Americans support the NSA’s programs and agree they help curb terrorism, though 65 percent of us would like Congress to hold public hearings on these programs.
Presidential historians claim there is no evidence that the Obama administration has violated the system of checks and balances, but in a system with secret court proceedings and secret hearings where outside witnesses are barred, transparency is an illusion.
After the NSA surveillance controversy resurfaced in June, many of us were tempted to hail Edward Snowden as a rare specimen who still understood and embraced the kind of healthy disobedience that sheds light on questionable tactics and helps prevent abuse of power.
But Snowden, facing espionage charges, fled to Hong Kong, then Russia, apparently bound for Ecuador.
The fact that Snowden’s fight for free speech and transparency may end with asylum in some leftist heaven should cause any sane person to question his motives.
We do not live in times of simple solutions to our freedom-related fears, as evidenced by the Supreme Court’s controversial decision on the Voting Rights Act last week. The narrow majority concluded that provisions forcing states with a history of racial discrimination to seek federal clearance on voting procedures changes were outdated. Changes in voting procedures in those jurisdictions will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.
While it is true that our country has come a long way since the 1960s, several states, including Alabama and Mississippi, have found ways to deny or abridge voting rights on account of race as recently as 2010, according to Justice Ginsburg’s dissent.
The Supreme Court majority’s contention that Congress could agree on where federal oversight is required on a case-by-case basis, based on contemporary data, is unconvincing.
According to a January Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in political institutions has dropped to a historic low, in the mid-20s, down from 70 percent in the 1950s.
But are we acting on that lack of trust?
And by acting, I don’t mean picking up a gun and shooting random people, or camping in hobo tents in parks and outside banks.
Just as post-Communist Eastern Europeans have given up challenging spineless leaders who lack values, Americans are shying away from honest conversations that touch upon uncomfortable topics.
We have forgotten how to rebel, and why it matters.
Until we remember how to dance to the rhythm of disobedience, the sacrifice of the Bels and the Kings and the Lorcas of the world will just be textbook lessons we are too lazy to learn.
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