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“The Voice Of My Own Doubts”: The Conservative Case For Reforming America’s Sick Gun Culture

Yesterday, a man in Virginia murdered two people on live television. The news media exploded into a predictable shouting match about gun control, mental health, toxic masculinity, and the “politicization of tragedies.” There was also a new twist this time around, a debate about whether it was appropriate to share or broadcast the horrifying video of the killings. And then the killer uploaded his own video of the shooting.

At this point, a voice asserted itself in my conscience. It has become the voice of my own doubts about America’s gun culture. It was Irish-accented and belonged to a friend of my father’s. “But what about the guns?” he asked, looking at me gravely. “You must know.”

Almost any American who travels abroad and talks about politics hears something like that. Often in the first 10 minutes of meeting someone. In the rest of the world, it’s all they have to say: “What about the guns?”

I’m a conservative. I have friends who have guns. I’m convinced by some of the arguments for an armed citizenry. I told that Irish voice that his own country was freed from British rule by guns. That the number of privately owned Irish guns was of paramount concern to British ministers in the 1910s and 1920s, and that this was good evidence that an armed citizenry is a defense against tyranny.

I pointed out that because so much of America is rural, citizens need means to defend themselves and their property when the armed authorities are far away from them. I noted that America would face insurmountable obstacles in trying to confiscate guns, as so many Americans believe they are a necessary defensive measure against violence. I also observed that the same belief was held just a few hours up the road from him, in Northern Ireland, and that’s why Great Britain has considerably relaxed gun laws there compared to the rest of the country.

With the easy confidence of an American-Irish nationalist, I told him that the reason the Falls Road neighborhood wasn’t burned down again was three letters long: IRA. They had guns.

That was enough to not only impress my interlocutor, but to also silence him on the subject. But my conscience has been talking at me ever since. And on days like yesterday, it is screaming: What about the guns? I have no answers, but I have some doubts about our gun culture that American conservatives should consider:

An armed citizenry is not the same thing as an armed consumer public

In America we have background checks to prevent certain criminals from owning guns. It’s a system that presumes good citizenship on the part of everyone who has not been convicted of a crime. But not having a criminal record is a very different thing from being a responsible citizen. The only test most people have to pass to gain access to weapons of exceptional lethal power is this: Do you have enough cash or credit?

That’s not enough. Classical republican theory restricts arms ownership to those it deems responsible enough to uphold public order. Our system of guns as a consumer good, and our democratic presumption of good citizenship, puts guns into unsteady and untrained hands.

Making sure a person is qualified to own a gun is something responsible societies do. Many families, gun clubs, and organizations like the NRA do the work of training responsible, conscientious gun owners. It’s plausible that some kind of mandatory socialization in gun clubs for potential gun owners would be a good first step at preventing gun violence. It’s more plausible than simply wishing for more ‘good guys with guns’ at every possible location for a tragedy. As things stand, this constructive, social gun culture does not encompass the totality of gun owners; gun shops certainly don’t inquire about your sociability and training.

I know what conservatives are thinking: “So you think the government has the power to disqualify citizens from gun ownership?” The government will prove terrible at this task, and it defeats the purpose of an armed citizenry. And to be sure, I don’t want a government that can put a gun owner in prison for having the wrong politics. And of course, this power of restricting guns — like restricting the franchise to “responsible, invested citizens” — echoes a historical tie between gun control and racist efforts to confine blacks to a lower status. And yet, we still ought to consider stronger guarantees of responsible gun ownership. Perhaps tests that aim at qualifying the character of a gun owner, rather than searching only for a criminal disqualification.

Increased firepower among citizens is leading to an arms race with the state

There are plenty of horror stories about cops getting geeked-up in discarded military gear to deliver a warrant or make a drug arrest. They kick in a door, throw a flash-bang into a crib, or shoot to death an innocent unlucky enough to be holding a television remote that looks like a weapon. The militarization of the police has many causes, including our drug policies and federally subsidized military-grade equipment. But it is also the case that cops in America expect to go into gunfights, and naturally they want the bigger gun. Countries without as wide access to guns don’t have such heavily armed or fearful police.

American may be more violent precisely because we have guns

We’re often told that Americans are just more violent than other people, and that’s why we have so many guns. And I agree, to a point. But the truth might be the other way around, and conservatives should make generous allowances for the pre-rational or the anti-rational in our politics. Our tools and our physical surroundings shape our self-conception and our intentions. A beautiful church sanctuary reminds us of the transcendent and sends a hush over us. A well-appointed room may cause us to stand straighter. And training with a hand gun, an object designed to kill other human beings, causes us to imagine situations in which we might kill another human being.

Doing this constantly makes us more likely to “see” a situation in which we could take lethal action. It may cause us to perceive more danger in the world than actually exists. Mentally unsound people are obviously much more likely to lose themselves in this kind of self-induced paranoia, but a stable person should be aware of that pull on their subconscious intentions as well.

It is this intuition about human nature that makes me recoil instinctively from certain guns, often marketed as “tactical,” which are designed to look sinister and appeal to young men who spent a lot of time in their adolescence playing Counter-Strike.

Firearm-related deaths are one of the only truly “exceptional” things about America, and that’s embarrassing

There are lots of places on Earth where you can make a prosperous living. There are lots of modern commercial nations. In history there have been empires that bungled through the Middle East like we do. And there are lots of countries that are torn by disorder and violence that are caused by an absence of state authority. America is really the only nation that is orderly with an almost unchallengeable state, and yet has a gun-death rate similar to much poorer Latin American nations experiencing low-grade civil wars and disorder.

Yes, many of our firearm-related deaths are suicides. But our firearm-related homicide rate is noticeably higher than every comparable industrialized nation. And furthermore, there seems to be a strong correlation between reduced access to firearms and a reduced rate of suicide.

None of these lines of thought has carried me all the way over to Mike Bloomberg’s side. Gun crime, like all crime, has been receding for most of my life. I recognize that most of the proposals made by gun-control groups in the aftermath of a tragedy would have done little to prevent the tragedy in the first place. I admire most of the gun-owners I know, many of whom have politics that are on the left or are outright radical. I have thought of purchasing weapons and training with them myself and I would regret the loss of my ability to do so. The concept of an “armed citizenry” makes sense to me, from my reading of history. And I think responsible citizens have a right to defend themselves against each other, even with guns. The results of preventing them from obtaining firearms lawfully can also be deadly and unjust.

But overall, the results in this part of the American experiment are not encouraging. If the Virginia killer did not have easy access to guns, if his scheme for murdering his former colleagues had to be accomplished with knives, hammers, or a home-made explosive device, the truth is that those murders would have been much less likely to occur. Conservatives who generally support the idea of an armed citizenry should let that thought sink in.

 

By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, August 27, 2015

August 27, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Lobby, Gun Ownership | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Civil War’s Dirty Secret; It Was Always About Slavery”: Imposing Their Values On The Majority, It Was Never About States’ Rights

Seven score and ten years ago, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, and the great American Civil War ended, or so we’ve read in high school textbooks and on Wikipedia.

The chivalrous Lee, in countless hues of grey on his white horse, and the magnanimous Grant in muddy boots were icons that the reunited-by-force United States needed desperately a century and a half ago, and that we’ve cherished ever since.

But the war did not really end at Appomattox, just as it did not really begin four years before when South Carolina militias opened fire on the tiny Union garrison in the massive, unfinished fort called Sumter that dominated Charleston Harbor.

And if we want to stop and think today about what that war was about—what made it happen—then cannons, shot and shells, minié balls, muskets and swords do not, in the end, tell us very much. Brave men were called on to fight for their homes and their ideals, or because they didn’t have better sense, and, as in every war, they kept on fighting for their brothers in arms.

In the South, the spirit of camaraderie and defiance ran so hot and so deep that for generations afterwards, and to this day in some corners of the air-conditioned Sunbelt that was once the Confederacy, people will tell you about “The Lost Cause.”

But, let’s be clear. The cause of the South was not the cause of chivalry, nor was it about the revolutionary ideals of the Boston Tea Party, as many claimed at the time. “The tea has been thrown overboard; the revolution of 1860 has been initiated,” declared Charleston’s Robert Barnwell Rhett as the Carolinians prepared to secede from the Union and precipitate the war.

Rhett was one of the coterie of radicals in the South who came to be known as “fire-eaters,” and their cause was not the cause of freedom that the founding fathers fought for in the American Revolution. Their cause was slavery: holding slaves, working slaves, buying and selling slaves—black chattel considered less than human beings by custom, by the courts, and even by the Constitution, whose authors never mentioned slavery but weasel-worded it into the founding document of the Union.

According to the original U.S. Constitution, slaves, who had no rights whatsoever as citizens, would be counted as three-fifths of a person for the census that determined a state’s representation in Congress. This constitutional right—for such it was—was not one the slave-holding states were willing to give up, because they feared if they lost their disproportionate power in Washington, eventually their “right” to own other human beings to clear their land, grow their crops, and make their fortunes for them would be challenged.

The cry of “self-preservation” in the face of the federal government was “always on the lips of a Carolinian when he is about to justify an outrage connected with Slavery,” wrote the British consul in Charleston in the 1850s.

Every so often, rumors of a “servile insurrection” stirred hysterical emotions and ruthless reprisals. One plot for a slave rebellion stoked by a “free person of color” named Denmark Vesey was crushed before it even began in the 1820s, but 40 years later it still lingered like a nightmare and a prophecy in the minds of Southerners.

The notion that had existed in the early part of the century that the hideous “peculiar institution” would somehow atrophy and disappear had itself evanesced. The cotton gin, a machine separating seeds from fiber that was invented at the end of the 18th century, had made a marginal crop into a source of enormous revenues. But the cotton economy of the South was hugely rapacious. It burned out old land so that new acreage constantly had to be opened, and that was the job of slaves.

The hunger for that fresh territory and the slaves to work it was insatiable. The annexation of Texas and the subsequent war that took a huge part of Mexico in 1848 was not enough to satisfy them, because not all that territory would be slave-owning. The South and its friends in the North (like President James Buchanan) wanted Cuba, too, and many Southerners supported efforts to invade and conquer and annex more of Mexico and much of Central America.

More land, more slaves, meant more money and more power to dominate the federal government and make it support people who wanted more land, more slaves and more money. And in the 1850s a movement grew that was best defined as “rule or ruin”: if the slave-owning South could not control the federal government, then it would break away from it. The Union, as the famous headline in the Charleston Mercury declared in December 1860, would be “dissolved.”

One of the issues that the fire-eaters played on was the reopening of the slave trade with Africa that had been banned since 1808. (The Constitution had enshrined it up until that date.) By the mid-19th century, most Americans, including most Southerners, knew that the traffic had been horrific, and many understood that it was, in fact, a holocaust. It had continued to Cuba and Brazil, and stories often reached the American press of ships packed so tightly with human cargo that, as one horrified U.S. naval officer put it, there was “scarcely space to die in.”

The fire-eaters pushing for secession argued that this was not a crime at all. Slavery, as Mr. Rhett (the would-be heir to the Tea Party) put it, was “a blessing to the African race and a system of labor appointed by God.” Such men firmly believed that the world markets for the cotton that slaves produced—especially the great military powers of Britain and France—would put aside their moral qualms and support the South for the sake of its white gold.

In essence, they convinced themselves that King Cotton was the king of England. But that was not the case. The British government never did join the Confederates in their war with the Union. And without such support the agrarian Confederacy was all but doomed in its fight against the heavily industrialized and much more populous North. Only the genius of Robert E. Lee was able to keep the war going for as long as it went on.

The Ordinance of Secession and “Declaration of the Immediate Causes” drafted by South Carolina grandees intent not only on justifying their own state’s withdrawal from the Union in December 1860, but on persuading the other slave-holding states to join it, was concerned entirely and exclusively with the question of slavery. It quoted the Constitution. It cited the Declaration of Independence. But it was not about all men being created equal. And it was not about tariffs, as some have argued since. And it was not merely about the general principle of states’ rights. It was specifically about the states’ rights to enshrine slavery, pure and simple—and evil—as that was, and the obligation of the federal government to guarantee the rights of human-property owners. Since the Feds weren’t likely to do that under the new Lincoln administration in Washington, the Carolinians argued, “self-preservation” dictated secession. They were determined, come what may, to make their world safe for slavocracy.

So where did the Civil War begin and where did it end? One can pick many places, many times, but an illuminating version of the story can be built around one figure: a young red-haired fire-eater from Savannah, the heir to a huge banking and commercial fortune in the North as well as the South, named Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar.

In 1858, Lamar backed the voyage of a sleek 118-foot yacht called the Wanderer that sailed to the coast of Africa, loaded 471 Negroes on board, according to contemporary accounts, and landed weeks later on Georgia’s Jekyll Island. Roughly 370 Africans were offloaded there. The other 101 had died at sea: acceptable attrition when Negroes could be sold in the South for six, eight, ten times what they cost in the baracoons of  West Africa. Their bodies had simply been thrown overboard. (“The shark of the Atlantic is still, as he has ever been, the partner of the slave trader,” as one British editorialist put it.)

Lamar and his partners sent the Wanderer on its voyage not only to make money, but to flout the federal law. A whole generation of slave traders hauling their tortured cargo to Cuba under the American flag had proved, on the rare occasions when they were caught, that no U.S. court would convict them for what was supposed to be a capital crime. Indeed, Southern grand juries would not even indict them. And Lamar and his cronies proved that once again.

“They are rather amused at the idea of embarrassing the Federal Government, and perhaps, in a lesser degree, of annoying Great Britain,” the British consul in Charleston advised London in 1859, “but they will awake from their delusion.”  He predicted that the Democratic Party, which the slave interests had dominated, would be torn apart by the fire-eaters pushing for ever greater power, and the anti-slavery Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln, would come to power. “When this shall happen, the days of Slavery are numbered,” wrote the consul. “The prestige and power of Slave holders will be gone, never to return.”

And so it was. Lamar got what he had wished for. Most of the slave-holding states seceded from the Union, and they fought long and hard for their independence. Through much of that time, as a skilled organizer of blockade runners, Lamar not only survived but thrived. But as the Union troops of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman marched through Georgia in 1864, Lamar took up arms—and he would not put them down.

By then, it should have been obvious to all that the war was over. So desperate had the Confederates become that they even started talking about emancipating the slaves if only Britain and France would, at long last, back them. But by 1864 it was far too late for that.

On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

On April 14, 1865, Robert Anderson, who had surrendered Fort Sumter exactly four years before, raised the Union flag there once again in a ceremony intended to write a definitive end to the war. If he had had his wishes, he said, he would have done it in silence. In attendance were many former slaves who had enlisted as Union soldiers. One of the honored guests was the son of Denmark Vesey. But the event was forever overshadowed by the murder in Washington a few hours later of President Abraham Lincoln.

Still, Lamar continued to fight, stubborn and defiant as ever.

On April 16, 1865, Union and Confederate troops clashed on the outskirts of Columbus, Georgia. There are several different accounts of how Lamar died. In one that circulated among his relatives he was trying to surrender when he was shot almost by accident. But the one preferred by Erik Colonius, whose 2006 book The Wanderer is essentially a biography of Lamar, is far more dramatic:

“In a few minutes the fighting was hand to hand,” Confederate soldier Pope Barrow recalled later. “A Federal cavalryman, whose horse had been shot from under him, stepped in front of Black Cloud, the horse Col. Lamar was riding, seized the bit with his left hand, and threw up his carbine with his right, and called on Lamar to surrender. Quick as lightning, Lamar plunged his spurs into his horse’s sides and tried to run over his opponent. At that instant—as the horse reared and plunged above the soldier—he fired, and at the crack of the carbine Lamar fell lifeless to the ground.”

And so, Charlie Lamar’s war came to an end.

But there are times, and maybe today is one of those times, when one looks at the great questions of race and rights in the United States and realizes the spirit of the fire-eaters—their rationalization of racism, their contempt for the federal government, their penchant for violence, their self-deluding vision of their place in the world, and their desire to impose their values on the majority—all that, I am afraid, lives on.

 

By: Christopher Dickey, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 12, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Slavery, States Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Obama Recovery”: You Shouldn’t Conclude That Hitting Yourself In The Head Is Smart Because It Feels So Good When You Stop

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators.

Let’s start with a tale from overseas: austerity policy in Britain. As you may know, back in 2010 Britain’s newly installed Conservative government declared that a sharp reduction in budget deficits was needed to keep Britain from turning into Greece. Over the next two years growth in the British economy, which had been recovering fairly well from the financial crisis, more or less stalled. In 2013, however, growth picked up again — and the British government claimed vindication for its policies. Was this claim justified?

No, not at all. What actually happened was that the Tories stopped tightening the screws — they didn’t reverse the austerity that had already occurred, but they effectively put a hold on further cuts. So they stopped hitting Britain in the head with that baseball bat. And sure enough, the nation started feeling better.

To claim that this bounceback vindicated austerity is silly. As Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University likes to point out, if rapid growth after a gratuitous slump counts as success, the government should just close down half the economy for a year; the next year’s growth would be fantastic. Or as I’d put it, you shouldn’t conclude that hitting yourself in the head is smart because it feels so good when you stop. Unfortunately, the silliness of the claim hasn’t prevented its widespread acceptance by what Mr. Wren-Lewis calls “mediamacro.”

Meanwhile, back in America we haven’t had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity — but we’ve nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments. The good news is that we, too, seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn’t surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result. We are finally starting to see the kind of growth, in employment and G.D.P., that we should have been seeing all along — and the public’s mood is rapidly improving.

What’s the important lesson from this late Obama bounce? Mainly, I’d suggest, that everything you’ve heard about President Obama’s economic policies is wrong.

You know the spiel: that the U.S. economy is ailing because Obamacare is a job-killer and the president is a redistributionist, that Mr. Obama’s anti-business speeches (he hasn’t actually made any, but never mind) have hurt entrepreneurs’ feelings, inducing them to take their marbles and go home.

This story line never made much sense. The truth is that the private sector has done surprisingly well under Mr. Obama, adding 6.7 million jobs since he took office, compared with just 3.1 million at this point under President George W. Bush. Corporate profits have soared, as have stock prices. What held us back was unprecedented public-sector austerity: At this point in the Bush years, government employment was up by 1.2 million, but under Mr. Obama it’s down by 600,000. Sure enough, now that this de facto austerity is easing, the economy is perking up.

And what this bounce tells you is that the alleged faults of Obamanomics had nothing to do with the pain we were feeling. We weren’t hurting because we were sick; we were hurting because we kept hitting ourselves with that baseball bat, and we’re feeling a lot better now that we’ve stopped.

Will this improvement in our condition continue? Britain’s government has declared its intention to pick up the baseball bat again — to engage in further austerity, which does not bode well. But here the picture looks brighter. Households are in much better financial shape than they were a few years ago; there’s probably still a lot of pent-up demand, especially for housing. And falling oil prices will be good for most of the country, although some regions — especially Texas — may take a hit.

So I’m fairly optimistic about 2015, and probably beyond, as long as we avoid any more self-inflicted damage. Let’s just leave that baseball bat lying on the ground, O.K.?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 28, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Policy, Politicians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Tragic And Unacceptable Pattern”: What America’s Police Departments Don’t Want You To Know

Michael Brown’s death was part of a tragic and unacceptable pattern: Police officers in the United States shoot and kill civilians in shockingly high numbers. How many killings are there each year? No one can say for sure, because police departments don’t want us to know.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2013 there were 461 “justifiable homicides” by police — defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” In all but three of these reported killings, officers used firearms.

The true number of fatal police shootings is surely much higher, however, because many law enforcement agencies do not report to the FBI database. Attempts by journalists to compile more complete data by collating local news reports have resulted in estimates as high as 1,000 police killings a year. There is no way to know how many victims, like Brown, were unarmed.

By contrast, there were no fatal police shootings in Great Britain last year. Not one. In Germany, there have been eight police killings over the past two years. In Canada — a country with its own frontier ethos and no great aversion to firearms — police shootings average about a dozen a year.

Liberals and conservatives alike should be outraged at the frequency with which police in this country use deadly force. There is no greater power that we entrust to the state than the license to take life. To put it mildly, misuse of this power is at odds with any notion of limited government.

I realize that the great majority of police officers never fire their weapons in the line of duty. Most cops perform capably and honorably in a stressful, dangerous job; 27 were killed in 2013, according to the FBI. Easy availability of guns means that U.S. police officers — unlike their counterparts in Britain, Japan or other countries where there is appropriate gun control — must keep in mind the possibility that almost any suspect might be packing heat.

But any way you look at it, something is wrong. Perhaps the training given officers is inadequate. Perhaps the procedures they follow are wrong. Perhaps an “us vs. them” mentality estranges some police departments from the communities they are sworn to protect.

Whatever the reason, it is hard to escape the conclusion that police in this country are much too quick to shoot. We’ve seen the heartbreaking results most recently in the fatal shooting of 28-year-old Akai Gurley, an unarmed man who was suspected of no crime, in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project, and the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was waving a toy gun around a park in Cleveland.

Which brings me to the issue of race. USA Today analyzed the FBI’s “justifiable homicide” statistics over several years and found that, of roughly 400 reported police killings annually, an average of 96 involved a white police officer killing a black person.

Two years ago, D. Brian Burghart, the editor and publisher of the Reno (Nev.) News & Review, launched FatalEncounters.org, an ambitious attempt to compile a comprehensive crowd-sourced database of fatal police shootings. Reports of the October 2012 killing of a naked, unarmed college student by University of South Alabama police made Burghart wonder how many such shootings there were; the fact that no one knew the answer made him determined to find it.

Burghart recently summed up what he has learned so far: “You know who dies in the most population-dense areas? Black men,” he wrote on Gawker. “You know who dies in the least population-dense areas? Mentally ill men. It’s not to say there aren’t dangerous and desperate criminals killed across the line. But African-Americans and the mentally ill people make up a huge percentage of people killed by police.”

Burghart and others who have attempted to count and analyze police shootings shouldn’t have to do the FBI’s job. All law enforcement agencies should be required to report all uses of deadly force to the bureau, using a standardized format that allows comparisons and analysis. Police departments that have nothing to hide should be eager to cooperate.

The Obama administration has been laudably aggressive in pressing cities with egregiously high rates of police shootings, such as Albuquerque, to reform. But no one can really get a handle on the problem until we know its true scope.

The Michael Brown case presents issues that go beyond race. An unarmed teenager was shot to death. Whatever his color, that’s just not right.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 1, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Justifiable Homicide, Police Officers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Edward Snowden Blows It Big Time”: Crossing A Major Line To Further His Own Self-Aggrandizement

While it was inevitable that there would be those who support and those who condemn the initial disclosures of Edward Snowden—the 29 year-old former NSA contractor who disclosed the agency’s telephone and electronic communications surveillance programs—the tide of public opinion may be rapidly turning against Snowden…and with very good reason.

Spilling the beans to his fellow Americans over the depth of surveillance being carried out by the National Security Agency within the borders of the United States is one thing—disclosing the nation’s covert activities involving spying on other nations is something else entirely.

Last week, Snowden turned over documents to the South China Morning Post revealing that the United States has been hacking into Chinese computers—a revelation that came at a particularly embarrassing moment for the U.S. President who was busy castigating his Chinese counterpart for China’s constant intrusions into our own computer banks for various purposes, including the theft of American intellectual property.  If that wasn’t enough, the Guardian newspaper followed up with a report provided by Snowden revealing that the Americans and British spied on various delegates attending the G20 conference in 2009, choosing to disclose this bit of information right before the start of this year’s G8 conference held in the U.K.

Anyone think much got accomplished at the G8 after that little gem was brought into the light?

Even more disturbing is what appears to have motivated Snowden to expand his leaking beyond the borders of the United States and into the world of foreign espionage.

Despite making a pretty good living for quite a few years through his employment as a small cog in the gears of government surveillance activities, Snowden declared, during a live chat with the Guardian on Monday, that he believes that “all spying is wrong.” And because it is Snowden’s personal judgment that all spying is wrong, he also believes it appropriate that he reveal our covert activities to affected foreign governments without a shed of concern for what the rest of his fellow Americans might think about this.

I don’t recall there being an election where I voted to assign my proxy to Edward Snowden so that this 29 year-old guy—who I never heard of before two weeks ago—could determine, on my behalf, what this country should or should not be doing when it comes to its covert, overseas spying program.

So, how is it that Mr. Snowden has decided that it is appropriate to appoint himself the arbiter of judgment and morality when it comes to such issues? How is it that Snowden has determined that he is providing me with some patriotic service when I neither asked him to do so nor agree that disclosing information on foreign spying is, in any way, a service to his nation or to me personally?

With his decision to move beyond informing his countrymen of surveillance activities that allow the government to track our telephone calls and emails, Edward Snowden not only crossed a major line but gave us all reason to feel considerable concern about his motives and purposes.

In discussing the rationale for his disclosures on foreign spying, Snowden said:

“When NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn’t declared war on the countries — the majority of them are our allies — but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we’re not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the ‘consent of the governed’ is meaningless.”

There appears to be no shortage of logic fails in Snowden’s remarks.

If the public knows the details of what our government is doing when it comes to spying on foreign governments—as Snowden suggests is necessary—then it wouldn’t be covert spying activity, now would it? Spying is not particularly effective when everyone knows the target and nature of such a program.

And while Ed Snowden may have decided that all spying is wrong, I strongly suspect that the overwhelming majority of Americans would very much disagree with his assessment and might appreciate his not complicating our lives in furtherance of his own self-aggrandizement and the soothing of whatever crisis of conscience he may be experiencing.

What should further concern us all is not just that Edward Snowden has decided that we must now live with his judgments and moral determinations when it comes to how we conduct foreign policy, but that those judgments are based on a shocking degree of naiveté as Snowden doesn’t seem capable of grasping that in the world in which we live, our allies are not always our friends.

Snowden also appears to have missed civics class on the day when it was explained that the United States is a Republic where we elect people to make decisions on these matters and then judge the effectiveness of those decisions by deciding who we will keep in office and who we will turn away.

The bottom line here is that I really don’t care if Ed Snowden thinks all spying is wrong and neither do most Americans. This being the case, I have considerable difficulty with his decision to disclose the nation’s secrets to foreign governments just because he could.

I do care what the President thinks about our foreign spying operations just as I care about what Congress and the Judiciary think. It is their opinions and practices that I can either support or reject when I show up to vote. And while I may appreciate Mr. Snowden’s decision to inform his countrymen of surveillance programs involving spying on Americans, there is no claim nor evidence that spying on foreign entities crosses any legal lines and, therefore, it is incredibly wrong for Snowden to reveal data involving our spying programs outside the country .

Until I cast a vote for Edward Snowden to make such determinations for me, I would very much appreciate it if he would shut up and get over whatever psychological complexes are driving him to make these decisions on my behalf. He is doing neither me nor the country any favors.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 20, 2013

June 24, 2013 Posted by | Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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