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worst thing about NSA revelations

Introducing Claire Wolffe on the subject of NSA in your bedroom, office, head and bed. She’s a wonderful author, publisher and person. You can see her column and work at But today, you can read her current post right here. Of course it doesn’t have the dozen hot-links that make it so much more valuable. I encourage you to go read it there. But here it is in case you don’t wanna go there.

the worst thing about the nsa revelations

I’ve been trying to figure out the worst thing about the NSA revelations and it’s been hard to put my finger on that.

It’s not the loss of privacy. I hate that. I really, really hate that and I assume that everybody with a brain hates that. But it’s Not News.

It’s not the destruction of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Again: hate, hate, hate — but Not News.

It’s not the lies or the preposterous Hollywood scenarios the securitators are cooking up to obfuscate the fact that they’re spying on everybody. (Hey, look! As long as we make up Bourne-ish, Bondish stuff about terrorists, you won’t notice we’re spending more time peering at YOU!)

It’s not the sad fact that millions of people who “have nothing to hide” are so blind to even the most obvious potential dangers of the supposedly innocuous “metadata.”

It’s not the astonishing fact that some people actually still trust government. (There are sometimes interesting reasons for that.)

It’s not that we know that so far we’ve barely seen the iceberg’s tippy-tippy top.

It’s not even that the country is being run by unelected madmen. (That, too, is despicable and not so new.)

It’s not even that the country is being run by unelected madmen and most people don’t give a damn.

It’s not even that secrecy has run amuck and hardly anybody seems to notice that you can’t have both secret government and “representative” government at the same time — that secret government is by definition dictatorship.

No, all of that is horrible, but none of that is the worst. So what is it? What is it? What is the elusive thing that is even more horrible than all that?


I think the word might be impunity. Or better yet, that term our grandmothers might have used: effrontery.

It’s that all of the above is being done with the bland assumption that they (and I mean all the “theys,” from the No Such Agency to the rubber-stamp FISA court to the unholy union of Feinstein and Graham to the legions of enforcers to, of course, the Lecturer in Chief) will get away with doing whatever they want to do to us. They assume they’ll never be stopped and never be forced to bear any consequences.

And why should they assume otherwise?

Even when they’ve been caught in the past and had to weather mediastorms or even storms of congressional ire, those “theys” have always gotten their way in the long run. Look back at the frenzy of the 1970s, when Watergate and the COINTELPRO scandals crashed simultaneously over the nation — and thinking people, utterly disgusted with the illegality and overreach of “their” government, rose up and demanded change!

What did they get for their indignation and their efforts? They got things like the FISA court. That is, they got the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that, at bottom, just created a way for all the abuses to go on exactly as before (with perhaps a slight pause in the worst domestic surveillance) — but now to go on with a nice cover of “legality” — and complete, permanent secrecy.

And of course, we got all that — and worse. Because the fundamental wrongs never get addressed. They just get legal-ified to make them appear acceptable. (Legalification has the same relation to natural law as truthiness has to actual truth.)

The fundamental wrongs never do get addressed — within the system. And that’s what all the “they’s” are counting on. Public outrage. Followed by cosmetic reform. Followed by business-as-usual. Followed by all kinds of delicious new laws and regulations they can use to game the system even more completely in the future.

And so their game goes on. And on.

To a point.


Of course, behind all the impunity and effrontery, there lies that one ever-present fear: the knowledge that at some point even the most regulated, cowed, well-bribed, and spied-upon population won’t take it any more.

The “theys” of the world know this even as they deny it in the media and their everyday doings. Perhaps that’s why creatures as allegedly diverse as Feinstein and Graham are humping each other so vigorously on this one thing — the real thing not being that surveillance is good and comfy and protective and absolutely harmless as they keep insisting, but that the status quo (that is, elites overseeing the rest of us) must be maintained at all costs.

Because these days even some fairly mainstream people (or some some formerly mainstream people) are starting to use some alarming words.

No, not those words. But words like “illegitimate” and “revolution.”