Politics Roundup – NSA, DOMA, Turkey

Assorted Cutlery


An extended break from music writing was well-needed, and while I fell behind in my listening habits in June—a terrible time to fall behind considering the sheer immensity of summer releases—I kept an eye on albums I definitely didn’t want to miss. And resting also allowed me to spend time listening to stuff I enjoy leisurely, always good fuel for reminding one what an album needs to warrant that A Minus. So I’ll return next week with at least two posts—count ‘em, four record reviews (whoo!)—and another book post if I can manage it. I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping a summary file on books I’m reading, occasionally scribbling thoughts and feelings when I’ve a strong enough gut reaction one way or another. In the future I plan to post more organized book reviews, which aren’t so much reviews as brief analyses. We’ll see how it turns out.

So much happening in the world of politics it’s impossible to keep up, which is typical, but the recent windfall has scattered my and I’m sure your attention more than usual. I doubt I have anything to say on the following selected stories that hasn’t already been said, but a little reiteration never hurt anyone, right?

1) NSA and media
I’m unsure whether US media’s deflection of attention of NSA revelations to whistleblower Snowden’s personality instead of the colossal size, scope, and implications of the programs has been successful; I certainly hope it hasn’t. A quick note—there are three programs, rather different, that Snowden unveiled to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. One is PRISM, the NSA’s program for collecting internet activity, having open access to the servers of companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook. Another is Tempora, run by Britain’s GCHQ, which is run the same way and its findings shared with the NSA. The last is the NSA’s metadata collection of phone calls, texts, e-mails, and any other digital communication you can imagine, including conversations on Skype.

Unsurprisingly, the programs are claimed to be anti-terrorism devices, though even if this were true, one must run a series of thought experiments to find whether their existence is justified. I think it’s pretty difficult to make that claim. Comfort yourself as you might that you’ve nothing to hide and as such nothing to fear, but the programs are more than just an invasion of our privacy or the privacy of those in foreign nations (known terrorist havens like Germany and Sweden); they are dangerous tools which can be used to monitor our activity, study how we might organize in any capacity—to protest, to discuss, to share ideas—prevent such organization, and disseminate propaganda by studying patterns of how we navigate the internet. Having access to someone’s IP and mapping which websites they visit is a quick way to map a character sketch, the way their brain works. Considering how the government has a rich history of attempting to intimidate and silence dissenters, having records of their internet activity could be a useful means of threatening those who resist, where the implication of the outside world discovering the dissenter’s possibly unsavory internet activity is a tool.

A lot of media has performed its power-defending tasks by attempting to discredit the character of Snowden and Greenwald or downplay the significance of the revelations or shrug off its legality, and I wasn’t too surprised to find that most of the NSA apologists are Obama/Democratic/’liberal media’ partisans. Even the ‘left-liberal’ end of television news, MSNBC, has done little to condemn the NSA, showing once again that the media is far from being liberally biased. Furthermore, a Pew poll found that Democratic voters have switched their position on their comfortableness with the NSA’s spying programs, 61% opposing it in 2006 under Bush (37% supporting) to 64% now finding it acceptable as of this month (34% opposed). Republican support in that same poll dropped from 75% to 52%. I find the Democratic switch more disappointing, as fools who wouldn’t accept it under Bush feel better if their candidate is in charge, disregarding that the programs are largely the same with the difference that Obama’s programs have been ruled legal despite his office’s blocking any attempt by organizations like the ACLU to challenge that ruling in court.

Those looking for the best coverage of the developing NSA leaks should read the Guardian, and in particular Glenn Greenwald.

2) DOMA, Prop 8, Voters Rights, and Immigration
While I was pleased though unsurprised at the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, I did not expect them to overturn California’s Prop 8. In a discussion with a colleague, we both thought even the Supreme Court could not get around the idea that homosexual couples legally married were entitled to the same benefits as heterosexual couples, but that they would rule in favor of states’ rights regardless of how ridiculous the claim from which Prop 8 sprang (that gay marriage caused personal injury in no measurably detectable way). But the court ruled the grievance was too general and reiterated previous decisions to the same. Discussing with my girlfriend the implications this might have for the future, I speculated that while gay marriage will eventually be nationwide (a no-brainer), it’s very possible we’ll see similar cases being raised in, say, North Carolina, where Republicans surely and zealously overstepped their boundaries by not only reinforcing that gay marriage is not recognized in North Carolina, but that neither are civil unions or domestic partnerships; only heterosexual marriage is recognized. We’ll see.

While we can celebrate the victory of one minority, we must remember the plights of others. The Voters Rights Act was essentially dismantled, a piece of legislation its detractors claim was too rooted in a bygone era of blatant racism. I’m not sure how anyone looks at the justification for the ruling and doesn’t laugh. The government passed a great deal of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, but the idea that its implementation immediately followed—as though the amendments to the constitution following the end of the American Civil War were instantly absorbed and correctly carried about by Southern states—is ludicrous. We’ve still plenty of cases of housing projects wherein entire neighborhoods of minorities are thrown out and their homes replaced with real estate too expensive for them to afford, effectively relocating communities or rendering them homeless. Voting districts with large amounts of minorities likely to vote Democratic (somewhat in their interest; more so than voting Republican) are gerrymandered in such a way that one district will go blue 90%, but ultimately minimizing their voice as Republicans win in more districts by much smaller margins. And how, in the face of Republicans’ enthusiasm to require Voter ID Cards to combat non-existent voter fraud, can the Supreme Court not see the not-so-subtle jabs at ethnic minorities?

A bit of good news, though, with the new immigration reform. Granting citizenship to an estimated 11 million ‘unauthorized immigrants,’ the tradeoff is an additional 20,000 border guards, more of a drain on our economy than the millions already living in the US and who will inevitably continue to come. That last year I have data for is 2005, where of the 37 million foreign-born residents in the US, 11.1 million were ‘illegal,’ while the rest had some sort of authorization to be in the States. Largely I disregard the vitriol spat at immigrants, particularly those of Mexican descent, because the use of people who are in the eyes of the law less of a person than a corporation as a scapegoat demonstrates time and time again as anger misplaced. The immigrants, even the ‘illegal’ ones, are not taking the industrial or postindustrial jobs being shipped overseas—they haven’t the skills to perform them—and neither are they influencing the powerful entities which make such decisions. And those who think they are more progressive by suggesting we punish the companies who hire illegal immigrants will have a hard time determining how to follow through on such an idea, as roughly only 1/4 of the immigrant population has no legal standing. There’s more that needs to be done with this reform—plenty of people are going to be spending their entire lives here, and keeping them as a permanent underclass is less than human. How to rectify the situation is beyond me, but continued exploitation doesn’t strike me as the correct way to proceed.

3) Brazil and Turkey
Western media has largely shied away from the Brazilian and Turkish protests, especially the latter case. There was even a rather insidious article in The Boston Globe detailing Turkey’s ‘non-crisis,’ which disingenuously characterized the protests as insignificant in comparison with what Western media was only briefly reporting. Admittedly it was easy enough to think that all of Istanbul had been shut down and people locked up in their apartments while the demonstrations went on—that is, if you were lazy and only looked a pictures and let logic run from you. The truth is that demonstrations continue all over the country every single day, some more organized than others. Taksim Solidarity meets regularly in the Square every Saturday at 7:00pm. Ideas are being discussed in open forums in multiple parks in major cities. Not everyone agrees with the protesters; no one would expect that. But even brief conversations with my students—both pro- and anti-Erdogan—has demonstrated the legitimacy of the grievances of one side over the other.

There is no denying the economic situation has improved under Erdogan since he took office in 2002, but his human rights abuses, curtailing of civil liberties, and injection of religion into a fiercely secular country has created a backlash. And if these protests were to peter out (I don’t see it happening soon), and the economy were to tank in accordance with the rest of Europe, it would be interesting to see what leg AKP supporters have left to stand on.

The Brazilian protests, from the outside, appear to be a bit more violent on the part of protesters, but media being what it is it’s difficult to tell. Either way, you can see the characteristic differences between the two protests—while both rally against the government, many Brazilians are not miffed with President Dilma Rousseff per se, but rather the long and continuing pattern of corruption in government, which Rousseff has not adequately addressed. Turks, however, have targeted Prime Minister Erdogan and his AK Party in particular, with unfortunately no opposition party to effectively replace them. How these protests turn out is anyone’s guess. But their sheer scale and perseverance is unprecedented, a beacon of hope in an increasingly darkening world.


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