The people in this video are justifiably upset because a stranger with a camera is invading their personal space. It is our natural instinct to protect your own little “bubble” – sometime with violence (even if you aren’t doing anything wrong).
I find it strange, however, that we so readily allow the Government full access to our entire lives (email, video, phone records, bank statements, and video) without so much as a whimper. I wonder if we would react similarly (and violently) if all Government surveillance records suddenly became transparent?
Who cares about surveillance?
There are three basic reasons, that I can think of, why we should care about the Government’s mass surveillance program.
- A surveillance infrastructure is already in place for future, potentially corrupted, political administrations.
- A mass surveillance program is a diplomatic nightmare. Leads to a loss of trust and bad-will.
- A mass surveillance program is against the people’s natural desire for privacy. This creates a natural and negative barrier between the people and government.
Three things are happening to the American economy that are ultimately unsustainable:
1. Rising national debt.
2. Simultaneous increase in military presence and social programs.
3. The federal reserve continues to pump $85 billion dollars into the economy monthly.
The only solution seems to be a massive overhaul of our current economic methodology, but first we need to understand where are our tax dollars are going and what solutions are available.
Tax Expenditure in America
Major areas of spending breaks down as follows [source]:
Medicare & Medicaid: $802B
Social Security: $768B
These three programs account for about 75% of the total national budget. This means that, without major budget overhaul, mandatory spending alone will quickly exceed all federal revenues.
“Since the federal government has historically collected about 18.4% of GDP in tax revenues, this means these three mandatory programs may absorb all federal revenues sometime around 2050. Unless these long-term fiscal imbalances are addressed by reforms to these programs, raising taxes or drastic cuts in discretionary programs, the federal government will at some point be unable to pay its obligations without significant risk to the value of the dollar (inflation).” [source]
If the United States continues its current model without significant reductions in military or entitlement programs we can safely assume that taxes will continue to increase until we are more closely aligned to western European countries.
Comparables: Tax in the U.S and Europe
Currently the United States collects 26.2% of total GDP in taxes (State + Federal). That puts us at number 62 between South Africa and Kazakhstan. [source] We can compare this to the top 10, which include countries like Denmark and France, who each collect well over 40% of GDP in tax Revenue. But that number doesn’t mean much because every country has a different GDP and population. So we have to look at something else.
Perhaps a better number to look at is total tax revenue per capita where the United States ranks 14th. [source] The U.S. collects about $13,084.80 per person in Tax Revenue, which puts us more closely in line with countries like Denmark ($18,100) and France ($15,120). Maybe that doesn’t sound like much, but it would take over 1.5 trillion dollars in tax revenue to catch up to Denmark or 600 billion to catch up to France. That would be about ¼ of our current budget.
Solutions: What should we do?
It seems pretty clear that doing nothing is not an option. We can’t cut taxes, expand military, and social programs. That doesn’t work. So what gives?
To avoid bankruptcy the most likely scenario is a combination of modest reductions in spending and increased taxes. Considering the size of our economy and military these changes could be relatively nominal.
For example, if the U.S. were to reduce military by 25% and increase taxes by 2.5% of GDP that would be a swing of $624.25B. Maybe we could even do some unorthodox thing like legalize marijuana and tax the hell out of it. Some studies estimate another $8.7B in federal tax revenue a year. That would put us at $632.25B.
A number like that wouldn’t burden the economy and would put us right up there with Western European countries like France. Perhaps that is something we can all live with.
Today I was at a lunch-time happy hour with a few co-workers when the topic of guns came up. One of my co-workers Michael mentioned in passing that he and his family are planning a hunting trip in South Georgia where one of his uncles own several hundred acres.
This statement passed by me without a second thought, but two of my co-workers were intensely curious about the trip. One man from India and the other from China. They were fascinated by the nonchalant way he treated the topic of owning a gun – several guns – in fact.
Wei, a thin man with a thick accent and kind tone, explained he had served two years in the Chinese military during the early 1980s. This was the only time, he explained, he had ever handled a gun. In China only the military may carry a weapon. I got the impression he was not a fan of the Chinese military. Yasir, on the other hand, had never seen a gun outside the movies. I think he pictured Michael’s hunting trip on a horse and with a cowboy hat. Both found the gun culture in America (especially the South) unusual.
Explaining Gun Culture in America
“Guns aren’t a big deal to us because we grew up with them.” Michael explained.
That’s true for me too. I remember when I was a young boy and my Dad and I would go hiking. We would pack a few fishing poles and some lunch. He would bring along our dog and the shotgun in the event we would stumble upon a while boar or if we just wanted to do some target practice for fun.
My Father and Grandfather taught me all about guns: how to safely hold them, how to shoot one, and how to store it. I remember my Father carefully explaining to me that a “gun is not a toy” and to “never point it at anyone” to “aim it at the ground when you’re not using it.”
All of these lessons seemed perfectly natural when I was a child, but looking back now I realize that they were something truly unique to American culture and Southern heritage. Just like some parents probably teach their children to use the subway or cross a busy intersection – mine taught me how to handle a gun.
Guns are kind of like a locally revered cuisine that the rest of the world finds distasteful. Chicken feet or caviar, maybe. And perhaps for that reason alone many Americans, in certain regions, embrace guns even more. It is part of our history, our “rugged and independent” ideology, and upbringing. It’s not bread out of some desire to kill our enemies, some love of conflict, or paranoia – it’s just another tool we were taught to use growing up.
I guess that’s why a lot of people are hesitant to give their guns up and why others don’t understand that logic. Culture can be strange that way.
In Chapter 32 of Erik Larson’s book “In the Garden of Beasts” Larson describes the wide spread fear of Nazi surveillance prevalent in Nazi Germany between 1933-1934 – in the years prior to WWII. A concern for wide spread government surveillance, almost a century ago, is surprising and hauntingly similar to the surveillance state in America today.
Describing the concerns of Nazi surveillance in the American consulate, Larson writes:
“Prevailing wisdom held that Nazi agents had their microphones in telephones to pick up conversations…[William Dodd] (the American ambassador) filled a cardboard box with cotton…and used it to cover his own telephone whenever a conversation in the library shifted to confidential territory.”
The feeling of mass surveillance was common throughout all of Germany too:
“A common story had begun to circulate: One man telephones another and in the course of their conversation happens to ask “How’s uncle Adolf?” Soon afterward the secret police appear at his door and insist the he prove he really has an uncle Adolf and the question is not in fact a coded reference to Hitler…Here was an entire nation…infested with the contagion of an ever present fear.”
Eventually, the paranoia of surveillance became so common Berliners gave it a name:
“In the most casual of circumstances you spoke carefully and paid attention to those around you and in a way you never had before. Berliners came to practice what became known as ‘the German glance’ – a quick look in all directions when encountering a friend or acquaintance on the street.”
History shows that the surveillance state is an unfortunate institution imposed by only the most tyrannical governments. And like in Nazi Germany the United States has created a world-wide “culture of surveillance”.
Three weeks ago I was contacted by an anonymous source in the National Security Agency (NSA). The source contacted me through an email I have made available to the public through this blog. In the email the anonymous source claimed to be a long-time reader of my blog and that (s)he appreciated my honesty and my “small government stance”.
The anonymous source explained that (s)he had information that (s)he wanted to spread virally throughout the internet, specifically through blogs and smaller, independent, media outlets. At first I was very skeptical and assumed that this “anonymous emailer” was probably the other author of this blog (Holden) playing a prank.
The “Top Secret” Information – Proof
Soon I received a .zip folder over a private VPN file transfer set up by the anonymous emailer. The file was several GB in size and contained over one-thousand power-points, .jpg files, word documents, and .pdf’s. In the email the anonymous source highlighted about a dozen documents (s)he called “must reads”.
Over the next two weeks I read what must have been 250 documents. Most of them were very boring and seemed to be meaningless. However, several of them are worth spreading and sending to as many news outlets as possible.
Of course I assume that these “interesting” documents could be fake. So I sent one document to a contact I have in law school whose father happens to work for the Government (I assume FBI or CIA). Within the hour his father called me personally.
He was very concerned and asked me where I received the document. I told him that I found it on a random website on the internet. My friend’s father stressed to me the importance of keeping the document to myself. This pretty much confirmed to me the validity of my anonymous emailer.
Two Nights Ago – Posting the Information
Two nights ago I decided I would post a summary of the information I was provided. I also posted a link to the “critical documents” available for download via a link to a third party website (set up by the anonymous emailer). I felt this was not “leaking” the documents myself, thus was safe and legal.
Less than an hour after posting that article and link the post disappeared. It was as if I had never written it. A few minutes after that I was contacted by an “attorney” representing the United States Government. This was frightening as I blog under a pseudo-name and have never provided by personal mobile phone number on this blog. I was not informed how the “attorney” obtained my contact information nor how they linked me to this blog.
I was ordered, upon threat of charges being brought against me, to provide the details of the anonymous emailer, my email account, and all documents.
Media Shield Law
My first instinct was to give in, but I decided that by providing any information I would be incriminating myself. I contacted an attorney. I have been stressed for the past few days because no one knows about this- not Holden, not my wife.
The Attorney informed me that I was not protected under a new law called the “Media Shield Law”. Specifically I am not protected because I do not meet the criteria as a journalist.
Specifically, the amendment requires that a journalist meet one of the following definitions:
- working as a “salaried employee, independent contractor, or agent of an entity that disseminates news or information;”
- either (a) meeting the prior definition “for any continuous three-month period within the two years prior to the relevant date” or (b) having “substantially contributed, as an author, editor, photographer, or producer, to a significant number of articles, stories, programs, or publications by an entity . . . within two years prior to the relevant date;” or
- working as a student journalist “participating in a journalistic publication at an institution of higher education.”
*Amendment to S. 987, 113th Cong. § 5(A)(i), § 5(B)(iii) (2013).
Per the advice of my attorney I provided all documents to the US Government.
Why I’m Writing This
I decided to write this as a last ditch effort to let everyone who may read this know what’s going on. To you all know how fucked up everything is. To let you know that these laws do matter, that the Government has too much power. I wish I could tell you what I saw on those documents. I wish I could tell the world, but I can’t. I just hope this article isn’t taken down too.
Fake Article, but Real Consequences
Nothing I wrote above was true. As in – it didn’t really happen. BUT I hope it proves a point. The laws are real. The situation could be real. And the Amendment above is real. I hope this brought it home for you and made you realize how dangerous an unconstitutional law like this really is.
The first amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Affirmative action broke on the scene to right a wrong. To level the playing field after years of oppression based on race and ethnic background that plagues American history. Affirmative action was meant to blur and eventually erase the line created by socio-economic divisions created absent American values of freedom and liberty. BUT – is affirmative action still relevant in 2013 or does it perpetuate the idea that all people are not equals because of skin color?
Black & White
I’m a white man – but unlike a lot of white people in America I grew up in a black neighborhood in South Atlanta. I grew up poor and witnessed (and sometimes experienced) how racism, social expectations, and history can make life tough. All because you are a certain skin color, dress a certain way, and learn a different set of acceptable social norms.
Inequality exists not because their skin was black, specifically, but because society had set a certain standard for being black. And moreover, some black people set a certain expectation for themselves. It’s a subconscious and cultural phenomena that is almost impossible to notice unless you witness it first hand. It’s the common phenomena of rising to meet the expectations (or lack there of) expected from you.
If you are expected to “act black” you do. Just like if you are expected to be a gentlemen, become a lawyer, doctor, graduate college, or be a nobody – one usually rises (or falls) to the occasion.
So I do not deny, that even today, there are numerous cultural and historical factors that when combined act as a weight that make it difficult to be a person of color in the United States. Like the famous anecodote by Maya Angelou – the difficulties of racism are like a cage. No one bar serves to cage you, just like no one factor prevents an individual from being successful. It is when those factors combine – to form many bars of the cage – that trap you. Such is America, but still, does affirmative action really help?
Does Affirmative Action actually Help?
Most people who understand that many minorities are still hindered by the unseen forces of American society would argue that Affirmative Action is necessary. It makes things equal. But I disagree. From my view Affirmative Action, in 2013, serves to maintain the status-quo. Not to change it.
Affirmative Action is government sanctioned racism. It recognizes that people are different based on skin color and it plants a seed of racial inferiority in the soil of American societal foundations. It validates young black people’s idea that they are different. That they need special treatment to be successful. It validates the idea that their culture is more violent, poor, less successful, and incapable of being as successful as non-minorities.
While Affirmative Action attempts to address the social injustices faced by minorities it instead suggest certain individuals are less capable of conquering adversity. That certain groups need or deserve more help from the Government to be equals. It validates and sanctions a negative stereotype. What’s worse – it suggest that those minorities who have earned their place at the table of success did so because they were helped. They were given a hand-out so their successes are somehow less valid than everyone else’s.
For these reasons, among others, I think Affirmative Action in 2013 is counter productive.
It might seem like the NSA Privacy topic is all anyone is talking about right now and that true, but I have been discussing these issues for three years now. Right here on this very blog. It’s frustrating. Sometimes I feel like people, especially people in my generation (20 somethings) are blind. We are too addicted to the whims of main-stream-media talking points and our smart phones to know anything different. Perhaps the real question is: Why are we doing nothing? I have my theories.
Hierarchy of Needs and a Call to Action
My theory is we have become fat piggies. Too fat to do anything about our own circumstances.
We have all of our basic needs met. We have food, shelter, short term safety, and we are entertained. Distracted. That’s perhaps the most important thing. We are well fed and highly distracted.
People riot for two reasons:
1. Their immediate needs are not met. They are starving. They are approaching death. They are oppressed and “fight or flight” tells them to fight.
2. They are of higher conscious and demand social change. I think this is where the founding fathers were at. They saw the larger social injustice and understood their context in history. The opportunity came to form the United States and they did it.
Since our needs are being met and we are being kept relatively fat and stupid – subdued – those in the know are free to rule the slave masses. A more subtle and sinister form of slavery than before – slavery of thought and intention. Not a conspiracy, but a technique slowly developed over time by those in power – to stay in power. Unintentional at it’s core, effective, but on purpose.
Distractions and Illusion have made us blind to historical context
We have been to quick to forget history. We’ve been detracted. We have been fat pigs gobbling up free treats in our troughs – with our heads down – while our masters prepare to slaughter (or at least control) us. Big banks have gotten, their institutions have failed, and they’ve gotten richer. We’ve been swindled.
We do nothing because it all seems normal. We sit around the dinner table and complain about the NSA, Obamacare, homophobes – or whatever it is we want to be mad about, but we ultimately do nothing. I suggest reading the book “In the Garden of Beasts” for some historical context to how this is much like Nazi Germany under Hitler. (No I’m not saying we are Nazi Germany, I’m saying the social attitude to corruption is eerily similar.)
Of course I’m ranting. It’s just frustration, I guess. I’ve seen first hand the changing perception of America around the world. I’ve heard and read first hand accounts about the military and economic tactics of business men and politicians around the world. A regime change here, a drone strike there, bankrupt a country – sell the spoils to the highest bidder. Greece, Turkey, Guatemala, Panamar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, whoever. The people riot, the media ignores it, repeat.
Below is a video of a man in Texas who was arrested and disarmed by officers after someone called the police. Watch the video and let’s discuss.
In my attempt to remain level headed I want to examine both sides of the story here.
On one side we have the police officers. They received a call about a man carrying a rifle while walking down a Texas road. Their heart begins to pound because anytime you have to respond to a man with a gun your life could be in danger. Guns do have the potential to kill and when entering in a situation as such one must be prepared.
The police see the man and an intimidating weapon and a slight panic sets in. They ask the man to turn over his weapon and he gives them an attitude. This automatically makes the situation worse. The cops stop following protocol and act in self interest. Their first concern is disarming a man who seems aggressive - this isn’t by the book, but things are moving so fast that it’s easy to see why mistakes are made.
Gun violence has been all the talk on the news and in precincts everywhere. Tensions are high and protecting life is top priority.
The Armed Citizen
The man is a veteran and purposely chose rural Texas as a place to call home. He chose rural Texas because he believed that values he holds dear are upheld here. He has been desensitized by weapons after carrying one for several years in Afghanistan. He is a proud man and fought to defend the rights of all Americans and he wants to exerciser his to the utmost – that includes legally carrying a gun.
When the officer stops him he feels violated. This is America. This is Texas. He is just a man protecting himself and his son. The officer, who is a little panicked, tries to grab the citizen’s weapon away. This is it – unacceptable – this is exactly the kind of fascism and lawlessness the former soldier fought for to protect. It is inexcusable that any man try to take those rights away – the ones he was literally willing to die for.
The citizen is infuriated. This stamps on everything he believes in – and his son is there to watch.
When you see it from both sides it kind of becomes obvious why there was so much conflict. Both sides had a good point, but both failed to realize the other had their own perspective. I would even go as far as to say that perhaps neither were wrong completely, but both failed to see the other person’s point of view. Both were hyper aware of the gun and less aware of the situation. The cop was trying to protect his own life (as far as he knew) and the citizen was trying to protect his rights and beliefs (which he was obviously very passionate about).
How the Media has distorted Judgement
When I first watched this video I felt a lot of emotion. Then as I contemplated it – I realized a lot of those emotions were not my own. They were implanted by the media. They were thoughts and ideas that someone else told me to think. Carefully formulated rhetoric designed by the anti-gun and pro-gun lobbies to persuade judgement. It seems like this has affected almost everyone’s ability to judge the situation without bias.
We know the ideas: Guns are bad. People with guns kill people. Universal background checks. Common-sense laws. The Government is bad. The Government wants to take guns away so they can control us. Blah blah blah.
Maybe what we need to do is sit down and rethink this whole issue. Forget the guns and think PEOPLE. We need to educate people. We need to change the culture. People are both the problem and solution.
Side Note: The New Vietnam?
I also see a frightening pattern regarding returning veterans. Will this be a new pattern? Returning vets realizing they fought in Iraq based on a lie the Government sold based on Nuclear weapons that didn’t exist. A war that was never declared and never ended? Will proud vets return home to a population that quickly dismissed their cause and doesn’t appreciate their sacrifice? In the end I can see nothing good from the kind of endless war we’re in. History forgotten is quickly repeated.
The far right and left, in my opinion, are the worst society has to offer. They are arguably worse than criminals. Why? Because their ideas are poison, a hindrance to society itself. Their very ideas are the ones that spark conflict, war, death, and the inflexibility that prevents problem solvers from developing solutions. Extremists adhere to a script they didn’t even write, one they didn’t concoct themselves, because they’re too uncreative and too intellectually immature to recognize anything beyond their pathetic screenplay for life.
Extremists are bad because they refuse to see the world as anything but black and white. Their only goal is to exert their ideas above all others. Not to seek truth because their truth was already decided for them by someone else. There in lies the very problem and lack of solutions.
You are Just Another Market
Extremists cater to an audience or have been brainwashed by a talking head on the tele-screen. The ideas they spout sell ideas and draw attention. It is sensationalism. Unproductive ideas and concepts that provide no benefit except that of ad sales and controversy. Whether it is the left selling environmental or anti-war bumper stickers or the right selling “prepper” seeds and guns – the end game is the same and the same groups of wealthy elite prosper.
Extremist are Cowards
Extremists are cowards because they lack the ability or courage to admit when they are wrong. They associate with only people who are agreeable and purposely avoid those whose ideas conflict with their own. This process leads to a vicious circle of self gratification. A proverbial circle-jerk of extremist who have polluted their own gene pool with fickle, inconsistent ideas.
Extremists are ironically satisfied with the status-quo. The Irony lies in the fact that most believe themselves to be true individualists, but are anything but. Whether the “hipster” or the “redneck” they both confine themselves to the strict set of cultural codes assigned to them. Extremism is the complete opposite of freedom. Extremism is a prison.
So here’s looking to you. You right and left wing bloggers.
Note: This work was created as a joint venture between Atticus and Holden. A result of a collection of brilliant ideas brought to light via Google chat conversations.