Big Brother? So What!

telephoneThat incredible crinkling sound you hear is millions of outraged people getting their knickers in a knot over the revelation that the good ole US of A has been spying on them.  The news has sent the sales of Reynolds Wrap off the charts as tinfoil hats are, as of last week, the must-have fashion accessory this summer.  Meanwhile, thousands of pasty-faced conspiracy theorists are emerging from their moms’ basements to a rousing chorus of “I told ya so!”  It seems the much sci-fi-ed American police state has arrived, and the general consensus is anger and disbelief.  The New York Times, head cheerleader of the Obama presidency, has been hinting that there might possibly be a credibility gap in the current administration, while other, bolder media outlets are dusting off the n-word: Nixon.  Good luck with that comparison!  However, before we start gathering the nails to add crucifixion to Obama’s list of accomplishments, we need to stop, take three deep ones, and put a serious eyeball on this latest episode of I Spy.

First of all, this isn’t an Obama initiative, so get off the guy’s back.  It has all the earmarks of a Bush/Cheney adventure — which every report I’ve read says it is.  I’m no friend of President Obama, but the only mea culpa he has to answer for here, is why, as with Guantanamo Bay, he didn’t shut it down.  And honestly, given the massive intel the grey suits are collecting for him, why would he?

Secondly, and more importantly, Americans have been eavesdropping on Americans (and others) since before J. Edgar decided that John Dillinger was Public Enemy Numero Uno.  If you think this most recent bit of chicanery is a one-off, audacious attack on civil liberties, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I need to sell.  The fact is, there are over thirty different law enforcement agencies in America, and each one of them has a history of covert operations against American citizens.  Plus, they all have the technical capability and the ethical elasticity to get the job done, with — or without — a court order.  However, before you get all tight-jawed and start passing out gratuitous judgement calls, remember there’s a dirty little war going on, and the bad guys aren’t necessarily wearing black hats.  The nasty folks of this world have upped the ante on the nasty things they’re willing to do to the rest of us; playing by the rules is only one of a number of priorities we need to think about.

Finally, and for me this is the WTF moment, the same people who are yipping themselves hoarse about the sanctity of privacy aretelephone1 dancing all over Twitter, telling the world what they had for breakfast.  They’re spreading their profile across the Internet as fast as their little thumbs can tap out the info and sending kilobytes of personal and financial data to everybody who wants to know it — from Amazon to and all points in between.  Actually if the NSA (or anybody else) wants a running commentary on the private lives of most Americans all they have to do is join Facebook and they’ll get it from their own lips.  It seems a bit much to weep bitter tears over the death of a sacred cow when you’re the one who slaughtered him.

Beyond all this, though, the most interesting part of the whole situation is that the guy, Edward Snowden, who pulled the mask off this incarnation of Big Brother has fled to Asia; specifically, what the media are calling Hong Kong.  Nobody seems to be wondering why.  However, the last time I looked, Hong Kong was part of China, and it did occur to me that the folks with the most to gain from a monumental cock-up in the American intelligence community might be the Chinese.  It will be interesting to see if Hong Kong’s cut-and-dried extradition treaty with the US holds up against a determined effort by the boys in Beijing.  Just sayin’.  Stay tuned, and remember you heard it here first.

Trapped in the 80s with Privacy and the Politically Correct

There must be a Time Portal around here somewhere because, for the last couple of days I’ve been trapped in the 80s.  It’s not so bad, really.  The music is brilliant: Deborah Harry is still hot and David Bowie will always be cool.  Fashions suck, though, and TV is terrible, but I never watched that much the first time around, so que voulez-vous?  However, like Dorothy and Toto, I’ve had enough now, and I want to go home.  Unfortunately, I don’t know how I got here.

What happened was I was sitting around in 2011, minding my own business when I noticed that Politically Correct was having a hissy-fit a la 1985.  Apparently, some Social Science professor in a class called “Self, Culture and Society” at York University was explaining to his students something in the neighbourhood of “Without documented evidence mere opinion is useless.”  He went on to suggest that, despite the local mythology, everyone is not entitled to their own opinion.  (I knew that!)  He even went so far as to give an example.  Here’s where the time warp kicked in.  A student, who was either dozing or Smart phoning her BFF, regained consciousness long enough to hear “… all Jews should be sterilized…”  Instantly offended, she stormed from the room and set the media on fire with tales of rampant anti-Semitism.  The media typically goose-stepped into line, and the witch hunt was on.  Within hours, the social media had tarred and feathered the professor — and were within moments of driving him off campus with pitchforks and torches — when he finally got a chance to explain.  Actually he had only used the phrase as an example of a reprehensible opinion.  Luckily, he had over 300 witnesses — all the other students in the room at the time, so he was off the PC hook, so to speak.  Not so.  The offended student maintains “The words, ‘all Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context, I still think that’s pretty serious.”  She also issued a statement to the effect that it’s the prof’s fault she misunderstood, and he should apologize.  Logic has left the building!

You can see my problem, though.  This kind of PC/BS is strictly confined to the last quarter of the last century when Politically Correct’s reign of terror, one of our more medieval social tyrannies, stalked the land.  These days, we all know the drill: watch what you say and when (not if) somebody takes offence, apologize, say it was an error in judgement and go about your business.  In 2011, anybody who isn’t still undergraduate fodder gives Politically Correct the respect it deserves – none.

But the time/space continuum had already been broken, and the next thing I knew, the Rideau Institute issued a report on the coming Canada/US Trade and Security Agreement.  It stated, among other things, that the privacy of Canadians was about to be breached by the American bogeyman.  The Institute’s concern is that, in the hope of easing cross-border trade, our Canadian government will be sharing inappropriate personal information with those damn Yankees.  The outrage was incredible, but talk about a blast from the past!  The last time anybody in this country was truly a private person was probably around 1983 — when Parliament enacted The Privacy Act.  Let’s just stop and take a sanity pill, shall we?  I don’t think we need be worried that the FBI wants some passport numbers, considering Amazon and eBay already have our name, address, phone number, birthday and buying habits.  Honestly, if the CIA wants to know anything about me or 16 million other Canadians, all they have to do is go on Facebook.  In the last five years, Canadians have put thousands of hours of personal videos on YouTube.  This may come as a shock, but those hilarious shots of you dancing at the wedding are instantly available to anybody on this planet with a cell phone.  I think it’s a little late in the day to start worrying about whether or not Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security can find out if you’ve booked a Caribbean vacation – don’t you?  Frankly, I think that cruise ship has sailed!

Privacy, like politically correctness is something we used to be concerned about.  However, it’s a little silly to worry about Government intrusions into our private lives when we’re freely giving the same information to anybody having a Big Mac under McDonald’s Wi-Fi umbrella.   In the 21st century, private people are the ones who live in caves in the Himalayas.  The rest of us have sacrificed privacy on the altar of the Internet.  The Rideau Institute’s heart might be in the right place, but its head is at least a generation in the past, fighting a war that was lost before Google was even born.

None of this helps me, though, because if I don’t get out of the 80s soon, the next thing I’m probably going to hear is that Air Canada employees have decided to strike, and Ed Broadbent is calling the shots over at NDP headquarters.  No, wait a minute!  There’s Barack Obama, mouthing off to the Europeans about how to handle their debt crisis.  Thank you, Barack: you’ve done it again!  I’m saved!