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Total surveillance means absolute power

It has been less than 42 years since a US President ordered his minions to break in to the opposition party’s headquarters in an effort to conduct espionage directed at undermining them.

Now, thanks to the NSA, no one would need to physically break in to anything — a few calls would be sufficient.

People keep talking about the current NSA scandal as though privacy was something intended to keep your neighbors from finding out you listen to embarrassing music — an understandable desire but ultimately of no great importance. To believe that is why people need privacy is to completely misunderstand what is at stake here.

Richard Nixon really existed, and was really elected to office. The problem is not a hypothetical one.

Consider just for a moment what an unscrupulous President, like Richard Nixon, equipped with the information already available from the NSA could do to his political opponents, to reporters trying to find out the truth about his activities, to anyone he thought of as being “in the way”. Consider how much easier it would be for such a President to find his enemies given what the NSA has already built.

Total Surveillance Means Absolute Power.

The surveillance systems that have been developed by the NSA are too dangerous for us to permit to exist.


(39 years ago almost to the day.)

20 comments to Total surveillance means absolute power

  • Laird

    Well said, Perry M.

    The folks as Downsize DC (a pretty middle-of-the-road, work-within-the-system group) have concluded this is The Last Straw. http://www.downsizedc.org/blog/new-spying-scandal-is-this-one-the-last-straw. They have concluded that the US government has become a criminal enterprise, to which they submit out of fear, not allegiance. They ask, “How much criminality are we prepared to endorse from our so-called government? How long will we sit silent while the criminality expands? How long before we withdraw our allegiance? Good questions.

  • Paul Marks

    Perry M. – actually you are mistaken.

    The Watergate operation (by the “plumbers”) was about OPPOSING spying – trying to counter Democrat (and media) “leak” operations. “Plumbers” oppose “leaks”.

    Not that I have much time for Nixon.

    Sold the farm in Indochina (no more interested in VICTORY than Johnson was), price controls, never met a welfare program he did not like and (on and on).

    Why the “liberals” disliked Nixon (who followed so many of their policies) I have never been able to work out – perhaps it was just snobbery (unlike them – Richard Nixon was born poor).

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – Richard Nixon was condemned for TALKING ABOUT using the IRS against his political foes.

    Bill Clinton and Barack Obama actually did (do) this (as a matter of course) and the MSM do not care.

  • Bruce

    The problem for the “spook” agencies is that the “spying’ technologies work both ways. it’s a bit like air-defence systems: as soon as you turn on your radar, the other side knows everything about them. By the same token, as soon as the intruders start using theirs, they are just “targets” as well. ECM, ECCM etc. ad nauseum.

    It’s just that your average punter is just not playing the game……yet.

    Of course, as in Australia, it is probably illegal, terminally so, to do the biblical “eye for an eye” thing, digitally speaking, so some discretion and a large amount of vindictiveness are required.

    What the totalitarians count on is that the “peasants” are too “decent” to stoop to such things.

    Well, are you?

  • Can you ever imagine Obama resigning over anything? Ever?

  • Zarba

    I suppose I am like many conservative/libertarian Americans. I have always believed in the idea of the American republic, with limited government and free markets. Over the past decade that belief has been eroded and now lies gasping for air, flopping on the beach. This year I just shrugged. The whole display made me sad. Folks blindly celebrating freedoms they long ago gave up.

    Starting with the Bank (No) Secrecy Act, PATRIOT Act, Total Information Awareness, and with the disclosures(that only confirmed what most of us expected) that the government spy apparatus has been turned on our citizens and used to build an Orwellian inverse where we gladly trade our privacy and freedoms for “security”; I found this year that I didn’t really celebrate July 4th (Independence Day for us Yanks).

    The bond of trust that sustains any society has been broken. I no longer have any faith in the goodwill of my government. No faith that my fellow citizens really care about freedom. No trust that the apparatus of the State will not be turned on me simply because I disagree with those in power, be they on the Right or Left.

    We are building an economic and political Police State. Unlike my parents, I no longer believe my children will grow up to be more prosperous than my generation. Freedom of Thought, Speech, Religion, and gathering together are being destroyed. Opponents are vilified, ridiculed, and driven out of the discussion. If you disagree with The Powers That Be, you are now an enemy of the state, and any and all punishments are not only allowed, but encouraged.

    So-called conservatives willingly enable the Police State. Willingly roll over to the bureaucratic control of the economy. Happily drive the nation further and further into debt, even as they deliver grand speeches about “limited government”. Socialized medicine? Great! (As long as we’re exempt). They are the enablers of the Welfare State, and they like it that way.

    So-called liberals, who a few short years ago protested that Bush was “shredding the Constitution”, now happily enable President Obama when he actually DOES shred the Constitution. Use the government to spy on political opponents? Whatever. Use the IRS to silence conservatives? Yawn. The White House lied about Benghazi? Old news. But the proles dare to try to cut less than 1% of the budget? Why, that’s “draconian”.

    The media gladly parrots the talking points of The Anointed One, and cowardly turn a blind eye when the State uses its power to destroy other journalists. After all, it’s “those people”, the great unwashed bloggers, or the hated Fox News. They allow the IRS, FEC, EPA, and the rest of the alphabet-soup that smothers us, to attack their political enemies, because, well, “those rubes had it coming for daring to disagree with us”.

    Left or Right has no meaning. It is only craven lust for power, and doing whatever it takes to stay in power.

    It’s now just the elites vs. the rest of us. They will do whatever it takes, tax whatever they can, and spend money they don’t have to stay in power and destroy their enemies. And we are ALL their enemies. They despise their own society, denigrate their own culture, deny the truth, and happily fiddle while the barbarians storm the citadel. A US Army major stands on a table and shouts “Allah Akbar!” and shoots dozens? Workplace violence, nothing to see here. Couldn’t possibly be about Islam. Oh, and if you do have the temerity to point that out, you are a bigot.

  • RRS

    Total Surveillance Means Absolute Power.

    Only in the sense that Absolute Power requires Total Surveillance as a necessary condition.

    Absolute Power (presumably we are speaking of power over people) requires much more than information, or even a superiority of access to information. It requires sole access to information; and, in large groups, sole control of its distribution.

    Beyond all that Total Power requires particular capacities which have not been demonstrated amongst the personages of our political structures.

  • Well not really RRS, it just requires Total Surveillance… and a Police Force. And they have a great many of those… and in the USA Police Forces are essentially para-military organisations. Civilian Peelian policing is pretty much a thing of the past.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Why the “liberals” disliked Nixon (who followed so many of their policies) I have never been able to work out….

    1. Nixon rode an Elephant.
    2. Nixon didn’t abandon V-N instantly, two minutes before taking the Presidential Oath.

    Please don’t anybody mention that Nixon also ended the draft — in fact he campaigned on this issue, among others.

    The left only want the draft abolished when it’s their idea. Nowadays Rangel, Kerry, so forth claim to want it reinstated.

    Of course, they’re not anti-war either, just anti-US/UK/Anglosphere/European/Israeli participation.

    Oh, and they’re not anti-dirty-tricks-to-the-point-of-being-felonious, unless the doers can somehow be connected to Elephants.

    I trust this clears things up for you.

    */sarc* *g*

  • Regional

    Stalin’s Regime was more inclined to prosecute recalcitrant backsliding recidivists.
    If you’re of the left, you’re more likely to be denounced by some one from your side.

  • Antoine Clarke

    But Nixon was a nasty Republican and Obama is a good Democrat.

    It’s a shame such reasoning doesn’t stretch to gold: Nixon ended the Gold Standard. Why won’t nice Democrats reverse the bad man’s policy?

  • thefrollickingmole

    So how much confidence does anyone have that future opposition politicians/donors etc wont have their teenage viewing of “chicks with dicks and donkeys” brought up if they cause trouble for the new ruling class?

    The apparent fad of teenagers sending pics of their private parts to each other would be troublesome if it were dropped during a primary debate.

    There is no bottom to this hole, the USSR failed because it couldn’t quite manage to spy on everyone all the time, now it would take an active effort to manage to not leave an electronic trail. (which would single you out for investigation anyway)

  • CharlieL

    If I remember correctly, Nixon didn’t order the breakin, and in fact was unaware of it until after it happened. What he did was try to cover it up and then obfuscate when it started to come out.

    As with several other commenters, I did not agree with a lot of what Nixon did, but believe much of the animus came from the “But he’s not one of us” crowd, probably in part because of his anti-communist grandstanding dating to before he was Ike’s vice president. And I believe his desire to be accepted by the “elite” drove many of his actions as president.

  • Laird

    I agree with CharlieL. There’s a lot for which to fault Nixon (final abandonment of the gold standard, wage and price controls, misuse of the IRS to harass political opponents, etc.) but none of that is why the Left reviles him so. It’s sort of an earlier (and, I think, more virulent) version of Bush Derangement Syndrome. He mostly gets tarred for Watergate (for which, as CharlieL says, he was merely guilty of trying to cover it up after the fact) and Viet Nam (but it was Kennedy who got us into that morass, and Johnson who accelerated it; Nixon got us out). And while he was certainly an unpleasant, vindictive man, he was certainly no worse than, say, Johnson (who was a real piece of work). And I suspect that if he had won the election in 1960, which was stolen through massive vote fraud orchestrated mostly by (who else?) Johnson, he wouldn’t have been as bitter as he was and probably would have been a pretty good president.

  • Miv Tucker

    “The price of vigilance is eternal freedom – I cannot be vigilant if I am not free” (Miv Tucker).

  • Laird

    I guess that ends your chance for vigilance, then, Miv. Personally, though, I do not agree with your reformulation of Jefferson’s quote.

  • Paul Marks

    Use of the tax police to hit political foes was thought about under Woodrow Wilson and E.M. House (one of the reasons I have never trusted the “conservative” writer on banking, Benjamin Anderson, was that he was a personal friend, and political ally, of E.M. House – he of “Philip Dru: Administrator”). Under Franklin Roosevelt it became standard practice.

    Antoine and Julie are correct – it is weird partisanship.

    Elephant = bad – donkey = good.

    Perhaps because (in the “liberal” mind) the Republican party is still associated with the “three Gs” – God, Guns and Gold.

    Even if individual Republicans, such as Richard Nixon, do not real fit that (Colonel McCormack of the great days of the “Chicago Tribune”) sterotype. Although Nixon’s “ending of the gold standard” was really an end of the LIE that the Dollar was linked to gold – and he allowed private individuals to buy gold again.

    On Vietnam – yes I am just old enough to remember the defeat (largely by American airpower) of the Communist “Easter Invasion” and the (successful) “Linebacker” bombing attacks – “liberals” (read COMMUNISTS) in the United States never forgave Nixon for such things. Even though Nixon’s objective was never VICTORY (the only objective really worth fighting for) – it was to “bring the Communists to the table” (the Paris, vomit, Peace Accords).

    As for the Madison quote.

    Well people see things differently.

    For example, Charles Murray (whom I greatly respect) receontly published a big book taking a Madison quote as a jumping off point.

    The quote was the “the aim of government should be the happiness of the people” one.

    Murray clearly thinks this is a important quote – whereas I believe that “the aim of government should be the happiness of the people” is, at best, a silly statement – and (more likely) positively dangerous.

    It is none of the business of the King (or the Prime Minister) if I am “happy” or not – state and civil society are different things.

    And as for helping people bear the torment of this Hellish world – that is a matter for philosophers and priests, not governments.

  • RRS


    actually, In Pursuit: of Happiness and Good Government was written by Charles Murray 25 years ago, and recently republished by Liberty Fund.

    While Charles Murray does not need my defense, a fair reading of that work does not imply an absolute conformity to the Madison quotation, which flatly states that the object of government is the happiness of the people.

    Instead, as I read the work, his implication is that good government will not interfere with the ways in which people pursue happiness; or pursue “knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained.”

  • Paul Marks

    Silly me – I meant I had recently seen the book advertised again.

    However, I did say that Murray did used the quote as a “jumping off point”.

    I tend to agree with the policy suggestions of Charles Murray – and James Madison (come to that).

    But it is still a damn stupid quote.

    “Happiness” should not be the objective of policy.

    It is nothing to do with the government.

    And I doubt that happiness is a sane response to the human condition anyway.

    Although the 18th century meaning of the word was different (as Brother Glenn Beck reminds us).