The Snowden affair has ended. What have we learned about ourselves, and about America?

Summary: We’ve concluded the 17 month national dialog started by Edward Snowden’s revelations. As I predicted, nothing happened. In effect, we acquiesced to our government’s mass surveillance. This encourages them to expand further. With each such victory the State grows stronger, its citizens grow weaker (becoming subjects).  But nothing is written. It’s all about choice. America will be what we strive for it to be. For the Boomers, that’s a nation of high and growing inequality plus a powerful and growing Security State. It seems the baton passes to the millennial generation to reform America.

4 July 1776: birthday of the America-that-once-was, start of the successful Revolution.

5 June 2013: birthday of the New America, start of the first reform movement — which failed.

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  1. A funereal announcement.
  2. Significance.
  3. What to do?
  4. For More Information.
  5. Our present, our future.


(1)  A funereal announcement

The USA Freedom Act was not much reform (although better than the toothless bill the House passed this year after voting down real reform last year. But it was a Bill too far for the GOP.

The End of the Snowden Affair“, Steve Vladeck (Prof of Law at American U; bio here), Just Security, 19 November 2014 — Opening:

Sometime around 7:30 p.m. (EST) last night, the 17-month-long national conversation over how to reform U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance authorities effectively ended when the Senate failed to clear a crucial procedural step en route to what would otherwise have been the near-certain passage of the Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act — the surveillance reform bill that has been in the works for well over a year. The vote “failed” 58-42, falling two votes short of the 60-vote threshold necessary to invoke “cloture.” The preposterousness of the filibuster notwithstanding, I believe that this will mark the moment, in retrospect, when any real hope of meaningful surveillance reform died–and with it, any chance for many of the most important lessons from last summer’s Snowden revelations to be reflected in new U.S. policy.

The Hill explained how reform dies:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have dealt the legislation a fatal blow when he used a floor speech on Tuesday to argue that passage of the legislation would hurt U.S. efforts to stop terrorist groups. “At a minimum, we shouldn’t be doing anything to make the situation worse,” McConnell said ahead of the vote. “Yet, that’s just what this bill would do.”

Yesterday’s Senate motion failed 58-42, (GOP: 4 pro, 41 con; Dem: 52-1; Independents 2-0). This follows the 24 July 2013 vote in the House to limit NSA surveillance, which failed 205-217-12 (GOP: 94 pro, 134 con, 6 other; Dem: 111-83-6). So what now?

Defeat is not he worst of failures

(2) Significance

[O]ur loyal, brave people … should know the truth … that we have sustained a defeat without a war … and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.’ And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proferred to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

—  “Policy of His Majesty’s Government“, Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on 5 October 1938, a week after the announcement of the Munich Accords

On 5 June 2013 Glenn Greenwald published the first of Snowden’s revelations, backed by the full resources of the major Western news media. The revelations continue, right up to now (the US Marshalls’ surveillance of cell phones). Two days later I predicted we would do nothing in response to these momentous disclosures, and that our passivity would mark the birthday of a New America, and the death of the Second Republic (under the Constitution).

That first has proven correct; time will tell if the second proves equally accurate. However it’s clear that our children are the victims, powerful elites are the agents, and we are the cause.

(3)  What to do?

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. … It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.  If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

— Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet. I don’t know if he’s right about the mind, but his logic certainly applies to the clock

Time is short. Stop reading the news unless you intend to do something about it. Whether the New York Times or Naked Capitalism, a flood of news washes over us. It gives the illusion of knowledge. We can react to each datum as if it matters. My side Good. Yea! Others Evil. Boo! This gives us righteousness thrills equals to those of Monday Night Football or a hot hand in a Fantasy Football league. It’s entertainment, burning away our scarce time and emotional energy.

Instead of consuming information to pass the time, swing into action and help us re-take the reins in America. Read to gather useful information about whatever you’re involved in. Then apply it.

It doesn’t matter how I think this should be done. What matters is that you have an informed opinion, and act upon it. I have confidence that our collective action will prove correct. Otherwise the Republic is ill-founded, and it matters not what we do.

For suggestions about goals and tactics see these posts about Reforming America: steps to political change.


For More Information about the surveillance state

Posts about the revelation of the security state:

  1. The NSA news might be a birthday for the New America!, 7 June 2013
  2. The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins, 15 June 2013
  3. America’s courtiers rush to defend the government – from us, 22 June 2013
  4. Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013 — About civil disobedience
  5. Will a wave of leakers undercut America’s national security?, 8 July 2013
  6. The government strikes again, but finds yet another American willing to fight. Applause is not enough!, 9 August 2013
  7. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”, 21 August 2013
  8. Scoring the game so far: NSA is winning, we’re losing, 23 August 2013
  9. Celebrate what happened one year ago. It’s the birthday of a New America!, 5 June 2014

About America, pretty much all you need to know to see our future:

  1. We are alone in the defense of the Republic
  2. Loki helps us to see our true selves
  3. The several versions of the American Republic: our past, present, & future
  4. There is no problem with America’s political system, or the Republic
  5. A nation lit only by propaganda

Our present and our future

(a)  America today

A subject of New America

(b)  Somewhere in our future awaits the Third Republic


6 thoughts on “The Snowden affair has ended. What have we learned about ourselves, and about America?”

    1. I’d like to second Greenwald’s view. Here in Europe people are thinking about Snowden a great deal, even the general population, not just tech people, and the alternative paths for evading state surveillance are really generating an interest. We know we can’t change the way US political elite thinks and our own govs dare not challenge the USG view in fear of retaliation. Thus we are willing to take matter to our own hands and try to win this the technological and social way, as the political way is stalling.

      The only venue for real political discussion abt mass surveillance is the EU Parliament, which should be the most powerful parliamential institution on the planet, but is not free to pass meaningful laws as of yet. But as long as they keep the matter on the agenda, there’s still a little bit of political hope as well.

  1. George Packer, a writer for the New Yorker, was recently interviewed about his new book “The Unwinding” which focuses on what he sees as the unraveling of the American dream that has taken place between 1978 and today.

    Near the end of the interview he states:

    “I think people like the characters in my book are where I find hope. I don’t want to exaggerate it, because they’re all up against huge odds and none of them are thriving. But the fact that they never give up is inspiring. We know there are many more of them so, yes, I think it will come from obscure people in out-of-the-way-places and it will be very slow and long. But that’s what it takes. It takes stick-with-it-ness, which is something Americans have.”

    A mobilizing political vision, with a sophisticated organizing strategy in combination with American stick-with-it-ness sounds quite promising — but the first two elements need a lot of work.

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