Tag Archives: 1984

Freedom is Never more than a Generation from Extinction: The Fragility of Democracy in Authoritarian Times

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have had a wonderful Christmas holiday with my wife Judy, our dogs, and friends. I have spent little time on social media and I am being very judicious in what I post, share, or tweet. Social media is a good thing, but over the past year I have found that it can also be a very dangerous and hateful place, full of the fallacies of ignorant ideologues. I have gotten to the point where I do not even look at any news sites after nine or ten at night. Instead I have been doing a lot of reading because I believe that true knowledge has nothing to do with dealing with an informational overload of hundreds of stories of often dubious veracity every day, as well as the propaganda that is knowingly published as if it were either real news or truth.

Sadly the purveyors of such material, including confidants of the President-Elect, and the hacks of the Right Wing like Rush Limbaugh, and rabid conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones are now ceaselessly working to destroy any confidence in reputable and conscientious journalists. They are using a tactic that was at the forefront of Nazi propaganda efforts: destroying the confidence of people in their nation’s institutions, which they wish to either destroy or use for their own purposes, and demonize the free press, which the Nazis called the Lugenpresse or the Lying Press, a term which has been frequently invoked by Trump supporters at his rallies before and after the election. During the campaign the President-Elect himself has all too often invoked the same specter to demonize the press as a whole or individual journalists without using the actual term.

Over the past month and a half I have read Timothy Snyder’s book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Richard Evans’ Third Reich at War, William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I am currently reading Shirer’s Berlin Diary, and George Orwell’s 1984. Shirer’s Rise and Fall is a book that I read decades ago. All are helpful in understanding how despots and authoritarians come to power and how they destroy the institutions of democracy, including the press and free speech.

As such I am limiting my media intake to media that I trust, and that excludes every American cable news network. Before I post, tweet, or share any article I read it and check it out, and even then I don’t share everything. I am using what I am going to term media triage and just because I happen to agree with something doesn’t mean that I have to share it.

Today I read an interview with Gary Kasparov, the Russian Chess champion and champion of liberal democracy who now lives in the United States, in exile after having fled Vladimir Putin’s Russia where he was jailed for his beliefs several times.  http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/12/garry_kasparov_on_why_vladimir_putin_hates_chess.html

Kasparov was asked by the interviewer:

As a Russian pro-democracy leader: You live in exile now in the United States, you were thrown in jail more than once. What’s your advice to us, as pro-democracy Americans faced with real threats to civil liberties and democratic rights in this country?

The great chess master replied:

“First of all, people here should understand that nothing is for granted. There were many warnings in the past, you know, but every time, Americans and Europeans—they believe that it’s like bad weather. It comes and goes. But the danger is real. I always want to quote Ronald Reagan, who said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Now, probably, it’s not even one generation. Things can happen very quickly, because there’s so much power that comes in the hands of people who have very little affection for the values that make up the core of liberal democracy and the free world.” 

We live in a day where the virtues of the Enlightenment are not only taken for granted but despised by authoritarians and ordinary people alike. There are many reasons for this, some quite valid and others spurious, but they have taken their toll around the world, and we fail to understand just how fragile democracy, classic liberal values, and freedom itself for granted. British historian Niall Ferguson wrote:“So much of liberalism in its classical sense is taken for granted in the west today and even disrespected. We take freedom for granted, and because of this we don’t understand how incredibly vulnerable it is.”  

I am still hoping, maybe in vain, that our democratic institutions will survive. Kasparov remains hopeful and noted in the interview: “But I still think that America has a huge potential to recover from this crisis, and let’s not forget that a majority of Americans did not vote for Donald Trump.” I think we do as well, but do fear that events may prove Kasparov and my hope wrong. Majorities often don’t matter to authoritarians, a trait which the President-Elect has reveled in throughout his campaign and in his post-campaign events, but I take what he says and does seriously, as we all should.

That’s all for tonight, as I have plenty more to write on this and related topics, so have a great day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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New Year 2015: It’s Not 1984 so Long as Our Thoughts are Free

bloom-county-big-brother-is-watching-you-2

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984 yet again, only now it is thirty-one years later and Orwell’s 1984 almost seems quaint by comparison.

Okay, I know it’s now New Year’s Eve for 2015, but who really cares? so but bear with me.

I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until the past few years. The NSA revelations of 2013, though shocking to many shouldn’t have been so shocking because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to does similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live. Hell, I’ll a technophile I admit it, I love technology and I use it.

While technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use passwords and pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985. But that was different…

Today with the advent of technology, even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  The ability of other groups to use chemical weapons, to shoot down large commercial airliners with surface to air missiles and to hack the information systems of banks, businesses and governments threatens the stability of nations. The ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial and personal data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target and several other major retailers show just how vulnerable we are. Just imagine instead of money they decided to hack power systems, the electronic distribution grid or water works?

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half-witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories as they give credibility to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as our thoughts still remain free.

So Happy New Year my friends!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Happy New Year: Welcome to 1984, 30 Years Late; But Our Thoughts are Free

bloom-county-big-brother-is-watching-you-2

Thoughts are free, who can guess them?
They fly by like nocturnal shadows.
No man can know them, no hunter can shoot them
with powder and lead: Thoughts are free! 

Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free) 

Welcome to 1984.

Okay, I know it’s 2014 but bear with me, I figured that the first post of the New Year should be about the reality that has been with us for years but most people didn’t recognize until 2013. The NSA revelations though shocking to many shouldn’t have been because almost every countries intelligence services are attempting to do similar things. Likewise the private sector both aids and abets the government intelligence and security services and do similar things themselves to their customers.

Technology is a great thing and we love it. We depend on it. Smart phones, internet, text messaging, blogs, electronic banking, finance and commerce, e-books, and even gaming technology has revolutionized the way that we live.

Technology itself is neutral, it can be used for good or evil and every point on the morality spectrum in between. Thus it can be used for good, for convenience and holds much promise for most people, even as a minority uses it to commit acts of terrorism as well as all sorts of criminal activity against otherwise honest and law abiding people.

The tension that exists between the good and evil uses of technology, especially after the attacks of September 11th 2001 has prompted different reactions from both civil libertarians and people trusted with security of nations, businesses and infrastructure networks.

The fact is I can understand and argue for a strong civil libertarian response as well as the security response. Honesty I wrestle with the tension between civil liberty, including the right to privacy and the need for security. I want both but the reality is that the world has changed since I grew up.  It is not that people, governments and businesses didn’t seek to impinge on personal freedom or privacy and that others did not seek to kill or disrupt the lives of others in times past. The difference is the vast advances in technology which enable all of them to have ever more influence over our lives.

Technology has made possible what George Orwell only imagined when he wrote 1984. Governments, business, the banking industry, private security firms, internet service providers and search engines, as well as criminals gather information for good and for bad purposes. For our security we use Passwords and Pins which others seek to crack, while those delicious Cookies that are planted on our computers when we visit different websites contribute to our convenience while enabling others to collect incredibly detailed information about us.

It really is amazing and unfortunately I don’t have any answers because I am a realist. I am not a fan of the National Security State, nor am I a fan of the way business and other organizations collect information. That being said I also know that there are those in the world who desire to use the technology that we are so dependent on to kill or harm people or disrupt society.

Back in the day when terrorism was simply a matter of relatively small bombs, assassinations, hijackings, kidnappings and postal or wire fraud it was a nuisance. It was bad if you were in the path of it but for most people it was not a real threat. I lived with it in the 1980s in Germany with the Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhoff gang  and Libyan agents blowing up American and West German facilities and kidnapping and killing soldiers. We lived with it, daily searches of our vehicles at the front gate and extra guard duties, my wife and I almost were at the Frankfurt PX when it was bombed in 1985.

But with the advent of technology even small and seemingly insignificant groups have unprecedented power to kill and destroy. The attacks on the Twin  Towers, the Tokyo subway system, the Madrid commuter trains, London transit system, the Moscow Subway system and theaters, hotels, restaurants and train stations in Mumbai India and the recent attacks on the Russian city of Volgagrad show our vulnerability to groups that use technology, old and new.  Likewise the ability of criminal organizations or individual criminals to use technology to gain access to massive amounts of financial data as was demonstrated in the breaking of Target’s retail system demonstrates our vulnerability.

We want absolute freedom, privacy and security. However absolutes are no longer possible. Absolute freedom has never been possible, though we like to imagine it, yet absolute security can only be achieved by sacrificing all freedom. Now days security usually trumps freedom especially when the potential losses in lives, property and treasure are so great.

My inclination is toward civil liberties and privacy but such in the modern world may be on way to extinction and not all because of technology. Yes the technological part is big, and as a realist I do not think as long as the capabilities that technology provides us exist and advance that we can go back to a point that they cannot be used against individual liberty, life or property. Again, they technology itself is neutral, but how it is used makes all the difference.

The more worrisome issue for me is the way that the freedom of thought is being extinguished not in the name of security or freedom but for efficiency. Various parties including government, political, religious, scientific and business interests all seek to control thought for their own purposes.

Thus even history is twisted, as Orwell wrote: “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.” It used to be that conservatives complained about liberals doing revisionist history, but as a historian I find what I see coming out of some conservative circles much more frightening as history is twisted for the most gross political, religious and social ends. We allow half witted poorly educated loudmouths like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to think for us, promote fake history and conspiracy theories while giving credence to fake historians like David Barton. If there is a danger to any real freedom of thought it is because we as a people have allowed ourselves to taken in by such charlatans. Likewise the corporate state uses academics and intellectuals to prop itself up but once it has them it refuses to let them function independently.

Chris Hedges wrote of the corporate state:

“It is one of the great ironies of corporate control that the corporate state needs the abilities of intellectuals to maintain power, yet outside of this role it refuses to permit intellectuals to think or function independently.”

While Ray Bradbury wrote in Fahrenheit 451:

“Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

I believe that in such an age that freedom of thought is the most important thing, even more than freedom of speech. Soren Kierkegaard wrote: “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”

In college I learned the words of the old German song Die Gedanken Sind Frei (The Thoughts are Free). It is an ancient song that during the days of Metternich was popular among student fraternities in Austria and the various German states. After the 1848 revolutions it was banned by many governments in their crackdown against democratic movements. It was a song close to many of the anti-Nazi resistance groups including the White Rose movement led in part by Sophie Scholl. In light of the terrifying possibilities of repression that exist with the technology of today and what will certainly come into being in the coming years it is important to realize that our liberty must always come from within. The third verse of the song goes like this:

And if I am thrown into the darkest dungeon,
all these are futile works,
because my thoughts tear all gates
and walls apart: Thoughts are free!

Bertram Russell wrote of the freedom of thought:

“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth — more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid … Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”

It took some time but 1984 is finally really here. That is the new reality, but do not lose hope so long as your thoughts remain free.

Happy New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, News and current events, philosophy

Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Coming of Orwell’s 1984 27 Years Late….So Much for Timing

Yes my friends is finally 1984, well the Orwellian kind. I remember the first 1984, back in the good old days of the Cold War and all that.  But that 1984 was more of a number and not very Orwellian. It is funny I read the novel 1984 on my way to my first assignment in Germany in January 1984 and found it rather chilling.  However back then it was still rather futuristic despite being written back in 1948.  Orwell’s vision of surveillance and the manipulation of language didn’t seem as threatening back in 1984 because the technology wasn’t there yet but now it is.

There has been a proliferation of low cost high resolution video surveillance technology which continues to evolve at an exponential rate with corresponding advances in facial, voice and even emotional sensing technology that can have positive outcomes but in the wrong hands, particularly in the hands of terrorists but even worse governments, especially those that sacrifice freedom in the name of security. Since no government or political system is immune to corruption or without actors who are only there for their personal power or advancement of their political, social or even religious ideology these technologies are fraught with danger.  They are a double edged sword with great promise for individuals and societies which can be quickly turned to the service of evil.  An example is high resolution cameras linked to artificial-intelligence software analyzed the images to recognize faces, gestures and patterns of group behavior. There is the Mind’s Eye program being developed for the military which seeks to develop in machines a capability that exists only in animals: visual intelligence. Emotional sensing software is being experimented by some movie studios to judge the emotional reaction of audiences to films and face recognition software is used by Google’s Picasa, Yahoo’s FLICKR and others for file sharing and organizing. Google has also developed Googles which lets a person snap a photograph with a smartphone which then sets off an Internet search of whatever was taken.  Google has refused to put facial recognition software on the phone despite user’s requests. Google realized that since smartphones can be used to take pictures of people’s faces and retrieve all kinds of personal information such as their name, occupation, address and workplace without their knowledge.

September 11th 2001 brought the nation to the realization that terrorism could occur in the United States.  Now people in many other countries have dealt with terrorism of various kinds for years but for Americans it was something that happened to other people far away, or Americans serving, working or living overseas.  When I was a young Army Officer we lived under the daily threat of the Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhoff terrorists groups in Germany very narrowly avoiding being in the blast zone at the Frankfurt Army Post Exchange on November 25th 1985 when a bomb was detonated injuring 34 Americans. We turned around about 15 minutes before the blast because Judy felt ill; otherwise we would have been right in the zone. I remember getting the call from my Colonel that my Ambulance Company was on alert after this.  We know what it is like to have your vehicle inspected every day going into the base and being questioned by German Police when reporting a terrorist sighting.  So for us this was old hand, but September 11th tore at the soul of the American nation and I dare say that we haven’t been the same since.

We passed the Patriot Act and created new security agencies such the TSA and we greatly expanded the surveillance capabilities at home and abroad of American Intelligence and Police agencies as well as that of the military.  Now I am not knocking all the things that the U.S. Government has done to try to prevent another 9-11 or worse. At the same time every new expansion of security and surveillance there is a corresponding loss of liberty and with each new law or Presidential Executive order or Directive regarding security and intelligence gathering a little more freedom is given up and a greater possibility that the very laws and measures being implemented to “protect” the populace will be used against it in the future.

Those that design the technologies which make the implementation of these laws possible are increasing in the capabilities of their innovations on an exponential basis often with the explicit help and support of the government in particular Federal and State Police agencies, intelligence agencies and the military.  Data mining, aerial surveillance drones both armed and unarmed, the ever present surveillance cameras which seem to populate every public place. Add to the power of individuals using the latest smartphones to do their own spying on people and the technology which has so much promise to do good can and at some point probably will be turned against the people.

This will happen for sure after the next major terrorist attack and it matters not if there is a Democratic or Republican administration in charge.  Security would be the rational and those that dissent will be dealt with in one way or another.  One only has to look back at the Nazi and Soviet regimes to see how governments with far less technology were able to subjugate their people and oppress dissenters to see how easy this can happen. In the name of security and economic stability the Germans, a sizable percentage of that had little regard for the Nazis or Hitler let Hitler enact laws that gave him absolute power.

That is my concern. I like technology and love the benefits that the advances in it provide, but I am certainly aware that the technology that I so enjoy is a two edged sword which in the wrong hand can, is and will be used against the citizens of the countries that come to rely on it and draconian security laws and police procedures.

I am very security conscious. Having lived under the threat of terrorism on a daily basis in the 1980s and having served under constant threat in the far reaches of Al Anbar Province never knowing if Al Qaeda had infiltrated the Iraqi Police or Army units that I was among I fully understand the threat. At the same time I am fully cognizant of the proclivity of men in power to promote a culture of fear in which citizens willingly surrender freedom for security and in the process descend into the abyss.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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