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The US Surveillance State and the Totalitarian Tipping Point

By: John Suarez - Oct 18, 2013, 12:46 pm

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Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity. ~Wendell Phillips

american surveillanceIn the 20th century, the United States reached levels of wealth for more people than had ever been seen in human history. However, those in power whittled away at the nation’s basic freedoms, slowly and over generations. Complaints were few because material prosperity endured.

Today, massive and unsustainable debts are maintaining the US standard of living. Freedom continues to be whittled away at, but more US Americans are awakening to this hard truth, because material prosperity for many is evaporating. One area that they view with growing alarm is the emergence of the United States of America as a surveillance state, since, along with a militarized police force, it is the infrastructure of totalitarianism.

This is the second in a series of reflections seeking to understand these negative trends in the United States. The first essay analyzed the role of the US Supreme Court — in particular, its decisions that undermined private property rights and forced taxpayers to cooperate with evil. I concluded with the controversial proposition that the present system in the United States is post-constitutional.

For generations, US Americans believed that the first, third, fourth, and ninth amendments found in the Bill of Rights protected the privacy of citizens of the United States — that only a small number engaged in criminal conduct would be subjected to surveillance, following a court order permitting such activity by the authorities.

However, the arrival of new technologies provided the state with the means to circumvent these constitutional provisions. In the state of Florida, for example, automated systems are replacing toll operators, and they either process your information via your Sun Pass or by photographing your license plate and sending you the bill. According to the pre-paid toll program privacy policy, “information concerning a SunPass account is provided only when required to comply with a subpoena or court order.”

In other words, they are compiling and storing information on your whereabouts.

Affirming this reality, the American Civil Liberties Union stated on July 18, 2013, that “Police around the United States are recording the license plates of passing drivers and storing the information for years with little privacy protection. The information potentially allows authorities to track the movements of everyone who drives a car.”

However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation makes clear that the federal and state governments are monitoring not only US Americans’ physical movement, but also their telephone and e-mail communications.

The government is mass collecting phone metadata of all US customers under the guise of the Patriot Act. Moreover, the media reports confirm that the government is collecting and analyzing the content of communications of foreigners talking to persons inside the United States, as well as collecting collecting [sic] much more, without a probable cause warrant. Finally, the media reports confirm the “upstream” collection off of the fiberoptic cables that Mr. Klein first revealed in 2006.

The Edward Snowden revelations expose a national government that is systematically monitoring and recording the communications of the entire US American people all of the time, and beyond. From the Wall Street Journal:

The National Security Agency — which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens — has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology . . .

What is equally disturbing is that private companies are complicit in the behavior — when not engaging in their own monitoring of internet communications — although, to be fair, their will is not always on the side of the spying. (See the video below.) Further, even though the immense and illegal surveillance apparatus is out in the open now, we see no remorse from the instigators and the elected officials responsible. Rather, they are doubling down, and their apologists are right there with them.

Unfortunately, there is no plan; there is no conspiracy. This expansion and centralization of power has continued under both Republicans and Democrats in the United States and would most likely continue under a third party. Centralized power has become an end unto itself, and as the late Czech president Vaclav Havel observed:

Once the claims of central power have been placed above law and morality, once the exercise of that power is divested of public control, and once the institutional guarantees of political plurality and civil rights have been made a mockery of, or simply abolished, there is no reason to respect any other limitations. The expansion of central power does not stop at the frontier between the public and the private, but instead, arbitrarily pushes back that border until it is shamelessly intervening in areas that once were private.

The United States is reaching a tipping point that leads into a totalitarian abyss and the crackdown on privacy whistleblowers is one of many ominous signs regarding where this centralization of power is heading.

John Suarez John Suarez

John Suarez is a human rights activist who has spoken before the United Nations Human Rights Council on several occasions. He is a specialist on the human rights situation in Cuba. John hosts the blog Notes From the Cuban Exile Quarter. Follow him on Twitter @johnjsuarez.

Pacific Alliance Offers Hope for Latin American Collaboration

By: María Teresa Romero - @mt_romero - Oct 18, 2013, 11:17 am
unasur

EspañolThe disintegration of Latin America has been a slow but relentless process that began in the last century for several reasons — naturally because of political and economic differences among Latin American governments themselves. However, the emergence of Hugo Chávez’s populist, military regime in the early days of the new century contributed to the acceleration of the process. As soon as he came to power, El Commandante restored the old dream of the Castroist left in the region: an alternative integration, a "Bolivarian" and revolutionary one, that, over the years, was openly described as “21st century socialist.” These individuals had in mind an exclusively Latin American, rather than an all-American or PanAmerican, integration. They have also sought an essentially political integration, in contrast to the kind of integration that had been sought during the 20th century: a classical, democratic, free-market view — primarily based on trade and various private relationships, and less on political alliances. This integrationist ideal — which, as Chávez stated himself, “aimed to create a bloc of alternative power in Latin America to curb the American empire, and to expand and institutionalize revolutionary socialism” — was promoted in every one of the already-existing regional blocs. All of these blocs then began a gradual polarization process towards internal divisions and conflict, from the oldest and most organized ones, such as the Andean Community of Nations (CAN) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), to the newest and least organized ones, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). The decision made in 2006 by President Chávez for Venezuela to withdraw from the CAN was largely due to the fact that the bloc was not following his alternative integration model. This was also the reason for his many threats to leave the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as every other Regional-American organization. That included the Court and the Commission of Human Rights, which was partially put into practice on September 6, 2012, when his administration decided to denounce the American Convention on Human Rights. Today, the ineffectiveness and stagnancy of the aforementioned blocs show how much the disintegration process has advanced in the last 15 years. The CAN — once a regional example for the largest degree of integration by virtue of having created a partial free trade zone — is in the worst situation of all. Last month, CAN members agreed to end the Andean Parliament due to its high costs and the growth, albeit with deep internal differences, of the UNASUR. The MERCOSUR is stagnant; the CELAC is yet to be fully established; and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) — which was never really an alternative integration bloc, but rather a group of political and ideological allies — is undergoing a natural decline. ALBA has been too dependent financially and politically on just one of its members; that is Venezuela's financing and the international leadership figure of the late Hugo Chávez. In the midst of this predicament, it is of particular significance that we are seeing the consolidation of the Pacific Alliance, the youngest of the regional integration organisms. Created in April of 2011 by Colombia, Chile, Mexico, and Peru, Costa Rica is soon to join the group. They aim to achieve deep-integration as an influential mechanism for the free mobility for goods, services, individuals, and funds in order to better allow development. In contrast to the existing regional organizations, this body has just concluded its negotiations to reach a 100 percent tariff reduction, sign a broad trade agreement that lays the institutional and legal foundation required for investment and free trade, and establish a significant fund intended to finance social, educational, tourism, environmental, and scientific cooperation projects, among others. This new integration bloc really has the potential to grow and foster modernization among its member countries. According to its sponsors, the Pacific Alliance already represents the 8th largest economy and the 7th largest exports supplier on a global scale. It also contributes 36 percent of Latin American economic activity, carries out 50 percent of the region’s trade with the rest of the world, and receives more than US$70 billion in direct foreign investment, which accounts for 41 percent of total investment in the region. This week, the “revolutionary” presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela claimed that the members of the Pacific group are part of a conspiracy engineered “from the North” (that is, the United States) aimed at dividing the UNASUR. It is no coincidence that the politicians who, even if only through incompetence, foster Latin American disintegration are the ones who question the Pacific group, seeking to discredit and destabilize it. There was no doubt that this would happen as the the Pacific Alliance grew and consolidated itself. So be it, since they have begun to reverse the disintegration process that the hemisphere has been suffering from over the last 15 years.

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