FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Surveillance and the Erosion of Civil Liberties

by NORMAN POLLACK

Obama has been reported to be recommending the end to NSA bulk data collection. Even if true (it isn’t given the many loopholes in his proposal, especially keeping intact the FISA Court and Section 215 of the Patriot Act), it’s a little late after five years of structural-ideological imposition on the body politic, in the name of counterterrorism, a paradigm of fascistic social management, soft-glove intimidation, pressures toward conformity, all in the service of—what? It is hard to discern the magnitude of change in America over the period since World War II, Obama merely the present capstone of long-term trends of business concentration, military aggrandizement, societal alienation and false consciousness. Yet amidst gradual development of global hegemonic claims, precisely because a bastardized liberalism holds sway as the obscurantist medium, we miss the qualitative leap now taking place, a massive Rightward shift which embraces both major parties countenancing and legitimating a permanent war economy and mentality.

We’ve seen this before, the decade 1945-55 of torrid anticommunism fueling the Cold War, where Democrats and Republicans were indistinguishable from each other in advocating for super-patriotism garnished with consumerism and hostility toward organized labor. That complexion of American life has never changed, merely so grafted onto the national identity as in time to seem unremarkable, but for it to take on cumulative force, which it has, requires steady reinforcement until, as now, a breakthrough occurs. America sits uncomfortably in a world of other Powers; it wants the limelight to itself, unilateral military prowess combined with global financial-commercial leadership. Obstacles to this self-declared credo of a New Manifest Destiny clearly must be run over; hegemony does not admit of gradations, but rather calls for an all-or-nothing attitude toward internal regimentation, external conquest. To soften the image of Behemoth-like conduct, the US extends its influence and power through multinational military organization (NATO, SEATO) and international monetary and banking institutions (notably, IMF), without surrendering an iota of control over them.

Here we are, then: a half-trillion dollar (and counting) “defense” budget, far-flung missile installations and military bases, naval power massing in the Pacific to confront China, modernization of the nuclear stockpile, CIA stations as so many fingers in the pie determining the rise and fall of nations’ regimes, all synthesized, coordinated, pushing outward, movement for its own sake almost losing sight of capitalism as America’s reason for being, as though militaristic grandeur trumped the political economy making it possible. In this context, surveillance comes with the territory, part and parcel of the psychopathology of domination, as natural today as the air we breathe. Government has to be doing something to show its value as a coercive instrument, lest Authority (no longer government alone as possessing an official stamp, but transferred over to a combined ruling group which includes corporate and military elites) be questioned and the cohesion necessary to pursuing hegemonic goals weakened. Obama presides, in the case of NSA, over a self-fulfilling prophesy or bureaucratic nightmare; of course, spy on the people—how else ensure their accommodation to the status quo, their enlistment in the ranks of militarism, their absolute devotion to the System as a whole (Kafka would be proud of that capital “S”), their dedication to their own annulment as historical actors, accepting in its place the crumbs from the tables of wealth and the smile of their POTUS.

My New York Times Comment on Charlie Savage’s excellent article, “Obama to Call for End to N.S.A.’s Bulk Data Collection,” (March 25), mine, same date, follows:

Obama is the enemy of civil liberties. This latest skirmish is to give the appearance of respect for the rule of law; meanwhile little has changed. The National Security State is an affront to a freedom-loving people, which, because of their apathy and/or complicity, the American people no longer are. N.S.A. should never have been allowed; 215 of the Patriot Act is so odious, no wonder the lack of transparency of USG under Obama; the “surveillance court” is an euphemism for star-chamber proceeding, its very decisions and operations wrapped in secrecy, its judges appointed by Chief Justice Roberts, not known for dedication to the law.

Obama presides over a cesspool of lawlessness; cosmetics, esp. at this point, merely rub salt in the wound to the US Constitution. A POTUS who actively employs the Espionage Act against whistleblowers (presumably it is a high crime to reveal repression and abrogation of habeas corpus rights) and personally authorizes targeted assassination (participating in the selection of targets) is hardly to be trusted when it comes to the issue of massive domestic surveillance.

Let the citizenry sleep the sleep of indifference; in recent years the US has made significant advances in the formation, refinement, and execution of the Police State. Why be surprised? We blithely back fascists in Ukraine, support military dictatorships worldwide (Egypt the latest example), and use CIA-JSOC paramilitary operations to overthrow governments we don’t like.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

More articles by:
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull, 500 Years of Trauma
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Gordon Smith
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
stclair
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered, Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail