Geoffrey Long
Tip of the Quill: Archives
(Editor's note: As part

On Big Brother

(Editor's note: As part of my New Year's resolutions, I'm going to try writing a full-fledged editorial once a week. This is probably going to be a little clunky here for the first couple of weeks, as I've gotten a bit rusty. Please bear with me.)

In the New York Times today, there's this interesting piece on Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter, who's heading up the Pentagon's new "Total Information Awareness" project. This is that thing that all of us people who like our privacy have been dreading: a real, genuine system designed to spy on all of our financial transactions and flag anything suspicious.

While some of this makes sense in the here and now – few would contest the usefulness of a system that would chirp if a couple of ex-cons went on a shopping spree in every Wal-Mart in the state, buying up enough ammunition to take out Mexico – the thing that privacy advocates fear is setting a precedent which could be easily abused in the wrong hands. Take banned books, for instance. If we found ourselves in the hands of a government who didn't have our best interests at heart, who was only in it to maintain their private finanical interests and to pass political power down along linear, even familial lines, and who engineered events in the United States to steer the public opinion towards willfully surrendering even more of our civil liberties – in other words, one like our current government only much, much worse – programs such as The Patriot Act and this Total Information Awareness project could be used to snuff out dissenting voices. Under such a government, it would be easy to track each and every person who attended this weekend's anti-war rallies by seeing where their paper trails lead, without a pre-existing warrant, and then label each and every one an Enemy of the State. Further, the government would probably be able to build up quite an interesting little file of questionable behavior on every single person in the U.S. just to have something on hand to throw the fear of God into anyone who might even consider going to such a rally. Didn't pay a parking ticket back in 1987? Guess who might come calling, if you published an essay on your own personal weblog questioning the government. Have a dissenting voice? Guess who might suffer government-sponsored harassment, maybe in something as "innocent" as an IRS audit. God knows what they'll find. God knows what they've been paid to find.

Sound idea, questionable implementation

Believe it or not, I didn't start this post to rant about the nature of this problem. I started this post to rant about the usage of the term "Big Brother", especially in this context. I'm an only child, so I can only speak to what my perceptions of a big brother's role in life happens to be. If I were a big brother, yes, I'd watch out for my siblings. I'd keep an eye on them, and come down on them like cold thunder if they did something to endanger themselves. What I wouldn't do is ruin their lives in order to further my own private missions and goals, which is what this system seems to encourage.

Do I believe our current government has our best interests at heart? No. I believe that Florida was only lost due to family connections. I believe that all our calls for election reform have been swept under the table by he who had the most to gain from the corrupted system. I believe that in an ethical system, Florida should have been forced not to endless recounting, but to a re-vote. I believe that this war on Iraq, while perhaps necessary to remove a continued threat, is being conducted like a ridiculous personal vendetta, and that Bush himself has even admitted as much ("Let's not forget, this is the man who tried to kill my dad"). I believe that it's also a ridiculous ploy for the Bush family and the other oil barons to maintain their relevance, when the billions of taxpayer dollars that would be spent to attack Iraq would be infinitely better spent on alternate-energy research, in order to hit Iraq's economy where it hurts and solve our own long-term problems. I believe our current government is acting recklessly, and the opposition has somehow been stymied into submission.

And I believe that at some point in the future, if this situation is allowed to continue, I am going to be punished for openly stating those beliefs. It may not be openly connected, it may come in the guise of some other form of trumped-up charges or something along those lines, but it will happen.

I do not have a problem with having a system watching out for me, if I could believe that the system was on my side, or if it were even just plain just. The events of the last two years, however, have made me lose all faith in the system, and in the American public. Our people here at home are still suffering from a recession that Bush seems not to care about. Osama bin Laden is still at large, something that Bush seems not to care about. Our efforts at rebuilding Afghanistan seem to be faltering, something that Bush seems not to care about. Our stepchild ally, Israel, is in the middle of one of its most violent, darkest periods in history and infuriating people around the world, something that Bush doesn't seem to care about. His own actions, naming a so-called "axis of evil," are now galvanizing a nuclear-grade arms dealer / threat in the form of North Korea, something Bush seems not to care about. And the United Nations seems to think that going to war with Iraq is a bad idea, something that – say it with me – Bush seems not to care about.

So what does Bush care about? Creating his new "investor class". Tax cuts for the wealthy. Installing his friends into high offices throughout the government. Obliterating the separations between church and state. Giving a helping hand to the oil industry's efforts to run pipelines through the Middle East. A conveniently-timed war on Iraq to help him get re-elected. Showing to the world that we are not to be messed with, 'cuz we gots da bomb, and none of all y'all kin have one, neither. This kind of blatantly self-serving, military-driven, openly destructive behavior is the kind of thing that leads – and perhaps rightly so – to World War III, and this time we'll be the villains.

So what is to be done?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I do not write without my own personal interests playing some part in this. As a man in his mid-twenties, living in Washington, D.C., I am in danger from two directions: first, from the draft, should it be reinstated, and second, from a nuclear or chemical attack on our nation's capitol. I do not want to die. Yet, I also do not want to live in a world where our nation is held unaccountable for our behavior, where might makes right, and the country which is supposed to be the role model for democratic countries around the world demonstrates in full view how its system can be manipulated and poisoned from the inside. If we continue along the same path that we've been following for the last two years, it won't be long before the United Nations is meeting to discuss what actions need to be taken against us. It is our responsibility as the American people to take action before they do.

It is up to us, as the American people, to stand up and say that the kind of behavior currently being practiced by our government is intolerable. I live in Washington, D.C. I have seen what is possible when brilliant people work together in concert with ambition and with vision. The United States model of democracy is sweeping across the planet like a new Roman empire, and rightly so – it is in this method that entire cultures can work together for the betterment of all. This is why our current situation is so tragic. What kind of an example are we setting for the rest of the world when the "enforcer country", the military arm of the United Nations, openly threatens to defy the will of the other members and destroy any authority this tenuous global democracy might have? What kind of example are we setting when the leader of that country, who came into power under very questionable circumstances, is obviously acting to further his own interests while ignoring the financial crisis in full bloom in his own country?

I suggest that our president publicly apologize to the Korean public for his "axis of evil" comments. I suggest that he hand over all our intelligence information on Iraq to the arms inspectors and then step back and allow the United Nations to do their job. I suggest that he do a better job of convincing the entire world that our current actions are just and warranted, not just assuring us that he knows what's best and to trust him on it. I suggest that he start giving monthly progress reports on Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, and the economy, complete with Powerpoint presentations and downloadable PDFs that are understandable to the American public. I suggest that he revisit the state of the American economy and really examine what needs to happen to reinvigorate American industry. I suggest that he increase tax breaks for people who own hybrid and electric cars and the companies that make them. I suggest that he invest more taxpayer money into consumer-level renewable energy sources, flywheels, naturally-powered vehicles and other alternative forms of energy. I suggest that he prove to us that he does, indeed, have our best interests at heart.

Then, and only then, will I, as an American, be willing to allow the Pentagon and the government to watch over my shoulder; then, and only then, will I be willing to believe that they have my back. Until that happens, I will continue to believe as I do now: that Bush and company only have their own best interests at heart, and the millions of lives that the consequences may affect be damned. Until that happens, I will continue to say to them, You're no brother of mine. Now get off my back.

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