Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Thoughts on Edward Snowden

I have been somewhat curious as to what will befall Edward Snowden, the former NSA guy who handed over some sort of secrets/info and blew the whistle on the American Government's spying on American phone records and has until last week been living in the Moscow Airport terminal trying to avoid extradition to the US. I have had mixed feelings about this whole interesting case because it brings up so many interesting moral questions in relation to one's duty as a citizen of both the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man.

Now, let me be clear. I have no earthly idea if Edward Snowden is a Christian or if he has any moral compass one way or the other. The way he has been portrayed by some media, he is a hero who was honestly trying to shed light on illegal government activities, much like those involved in the famous Pentagon Papers blew the lid off of American involvement in Vietnam and subsequently started the investigation in Watergate during the Nixon administration.

Seemingly, the other half of the country wants to portray the guy as a traitor to national security, even to the point of labeling him some sort of anarchist like Julian Astrange of Wikileaks that just posts classified information online, even if it puts people's lives in danger, just to stick it to the US because he can, or other notorious computer hacker groups that hack into governmental systems just for the sake of basically anarchical ends. Mayhem for its own sake because they do not have anything better to do.

I have to admit I have conflicted thoughts on this. I abhor anarchists. Some moral theologians call anarchy the ultimate evil because in God there is the ultimate Divine Order. The opposite of that would ultimately be not Satan or demons necessarily by anarchy where there is no order or justice or mercy, a governance of the most evil order that appeals only to brute strength and base passions.

There was one time in my life I probably would have easily dismissed Snowden as an anarchist nutter. I freely admit that I have hierarchical “law and order” tendencies. One might even say I had Machiavellian, or perhaps Henry Kissinger-esque, tendencies in terms of political theory and foreign policy in my younger days. There was a time in my life that if I had heard, “This is for purposes of national security,” I would likely have accepted it without question. But, you know, you grow.

I even interviewed for a job at the NSA when I was in college, which was a turning point in my thinking on the issue. That whole process was completely bizarre. I had to get super-secret clearance to even interview. (Yes, there are several grades of above “Top Secret” security clearance.) I did all this stuff and then I was told to report to the Army National Guard base for an interview. I showed up and these men in black (I am not making this up!) were waiting on me with a few other people (I have no idea to this day if the other people were being interviewed or not.) They stuck me on this military transport plane and flew me somewhere, drove me to this weird building with no windows, and made me take this lie detector test where they asked me bizarre questions that made no sense like “If you were ordered to go into a room with a gun and eliminate a person you don't know, would for follow procedure?” followed by “Have you ever eaten a pizza with anchovies?” At which point they put me back into a car, took me to the airport, and shipped me back home, and I think I finally got a letter like a year later thanking me for my application but I did not meet their hiring needs at that time. Needless to say, I roll my eyes anytime the media or politicians start talking about the need for more “National Security.” Those dudes are paranoid Men In Black looney tunes.

I like to think I have mellowed in my older age since that event on which I have reflected on many times over the years. In fact, I think I am actually more on the other end of the National Security pendulum nowadays, going back to my Leftover Dixiecrat roots (or whatever more PC term you want to call it, if there is such a thing). I am no longer convinced a centralized American government is really all that effective anymore, as it seems to be perpetually led by a group of people who cannot get along or even balance a budget to save their lives. I have become more informed on the social moral construct of solidarity and subsidiarity that I have harped on in past blog entries. The more local control that can adequately handle a social issue is the best because the electorate has more interaction with local faces than with faceless bureaucrats and millionaire elected officials in Washington DC. Thus, local control has more accountability with the populace.

Frankly, this is why I think the American Empire is dying, but no one wants to deal that reality. I write that previous sentence with a smile because I remember having arguments in years past with some of my more Leftist leaning friends (whom I no doubt referred to affectionately as 'pinkos' at the time), that America was in fact not an Empire, or at the very least if it was an Empire, I would have happily called myself an Imperialist. While perhaps not a territorial empire (though even that is debatable), I think America is a cultural and economic empire that is intent on expanding its materialistic culture and economy as far across the globe as it possibly can. Let's be honest, we are quite happy to see the Golden Arches in Beijing and poor kids in Palestine wearing Chicago Bulls (or insert cultural sports team of choice here) paraphernalia.

But, my point is in all this is that there is a reason for the old saying, “Good enough for government work.” The further removed from everyday people a centralized government becomes, the more it becomes detached from reality. They get swayed by public interests and boogeymen “national security concerns” that may or may not have any semblance in reality.

In terms of history, Empires usually end in one of three ways. Either they run into conflict with a competing empire and are either destroyed (re: the ancient Inca in South America) or are subsumed and create a new amalgamated Empire with elements of both (re: Hispanic culture in Central America which is really an interesting fusion of several cultures, including leftover Mayan, Spanish, Toltec, etc.) The other option is that the Empire just finally collapses under its own weight, either by the weight of its own bureaucracy and self-absorption and inability to cope with changing realities (re: Roman Empire or Ancient China) or collapses under the weight of internal revolution because the Empire becomes so bloated (and often corrupt or oppressive) that it can't govern its parts effectively because it has over extended itself (re: British Empire).

Personally, I think the American Federal government is collapsing under elements of the second. We have not been able to substantively balance a budget for more than a year or two in decades. In fact, do you know the last American president that was able to balance the federal budget all his years in office? (Answer: Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s.)

The scary thing is, we are not even in the ball park of balancing expenses with revenues. Total federal revenue for 2012 was 2,449,000,000,000. Federal spending was 3,539,000,000,000. That means just on the surface that we are running over a trillion dollars (that's a 1000 billion, folks) over budget. This does not even calculate in unfunded future liabilities that Government owes money on in the future, which in some estimates is 70+ trillion worth, depending on how you calculate it

We can basically pay for 4 of the major federal line items (for instance, active military, medicare/medicaid, social security, and interest on the debt.) Every other thing that the Federal government pays for is paid for on the proverbial Federal credit card. This included the Department of Education, Federal Roads, Science/NASA, infrastructure maintenance, welfare, food stamps, farm subsidies, VA hospitals/federal pensions...ever single federal program that is not Medicare/Social Security/Active Military spending. All of it...paid for on credit.

But, I digress. 

Edward Snowden is an interesting case because I think he was initially trying to do the right thing. I am inclined to believe he is a whistle blower, though it is hard to render a judgment on what exactly he did because there are conflicting reports on exactly what secrets he handed over, to whom, and to what extent such information might have put innocent people at risk. The news has been self-censoring exactly what all it was that he handed over in terms of secret documents.

For sake of argument, I am going to say that it was only information relating to this undercover surveillance NSA meta-data phone thing. If that was indeed all it was, I would have no issue supporting the guy who was acting on his conscience to speak and say something was wrong.

My issue with Snowden is how he has behaved after he turned over the data. He went into hiding, first in Hong Kong, now in Russia. There is a difference between conscientiously objecting to an immoral law or policy of the government and trying to put yourself above justice and the whole rule of law. Part of conscientious objecting is the belief that to make a better and more just society, one objects to a specific injustice but does not place oneself about the whole of the law. In other words, one takes responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, knowing full well that those consequences may be severe. Unjust prosecution for disobeying an unjust law is part of the protest. Martin Luther King Jr. could have objected about segregation and gone off to Canada or someplace and griped from afar, but that would not really have done much. The fact that he was willing to risk being beaten, shot, or thrown in jail for what he believed was part and parcel of his effectiveness. One can't claim that a particular law or policy is unjust and then go hide.

If one believes they are above the rule of law, then they are an anarchist. One needs to fight and face the consequences because one believes that such policies are wrong. If you are not willing to risk everything for a better society, then your message is not really worth much, particularly when you are considering asylum in places like Russia or Venezuela, which are even more unjust societies with even more ruthless policies.