American History Today


Father Hennepin’s Discovery of Niagara Falls by Thomas Hart Benton, 1961

Father Hennepin’s Discovery of Niagara Falls by Thomas Hart Benton, 1961

I used to love American and global history through high school and it was where I excelled.  Facts, figures, people, excitement, wars and exploration…I sucked it all in like a sponge. That was back in the day when students were told to memorize the facts and not question them in K-12 public education. Problem was that I was a bit naive and blindly believed everything I was told as fact.

That changed quickly in college and I started to see that the black and white of K-12 was actually many shades of gray. I came to understand that history is written by humans and we each tend to put varying degrees spin on what we see, experience, interpret and report. I still love history, but at times I do long to see it through the eyes of my childhood.

I led with all of this personal background, because the recent story in the London, UK paper ‘The Guardian‘  just makes me shake my head. The story reports about my governments order (see order here) for one of its major telephone companies (Verizon) to provide ALL customer records for their domestic and foreign calls.  Basically, spying on each and every American citizen! This really shows how little privacy and freedom those of us who believe we are living in the land of the free now have.  The report is pretty much being confirmed by the White House and they don’t seem to see anything wrong with this and even defend it.  To me it is just another example of our government using the ‘Patriot Act‘ and the far worse but less known ‘Military Commissions Act‘ to protect us from those evil terrorists.  Problem is…where does it stop and who is protecting us from ourselves?

Combine this with the current IRS scandal, attacks on journalistic freedom (thus the reason for a UK paper to break the Verizon news), trials of whistle blowers, covert trade deals, drones OK’d to be used against US citizens, Benghazi, The Great Recession and you certainly have some Obama history. Combined that with the wars and torture of the previous administration and I doubt this will be seen as a very positive era for the USA. In fact some parallels to the Rise of the Third Reich in the 30’s can sadly be drawn.

I suggest we all take a moment to look at all of this material and ask ourselves why we can’t have security and freedom at the same time? Is this the country we want to give to our children? Is it time to repeal the ‘Patriot Act‘ and Military Commissions Acts? How accurate is the following excerpt from The Guardian article on this?

The court order appears to explain the numerous cryptic public warnings by two US senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, about the scope of the Obama administration’s surveillance activities.

For roughly two years, the two Democrats have been stridently advising the public that the US government is relying on “secret legal interpretations” to claim surveillance powers so broad that the American public would be “stunned” to learn of the kind of domestic spying being conducted.

Because those activities are classified, the senators, both members of the Senate intelligence committee, have been prevented from specifying which domestic surveillance programs they find so alarming. But the information they have been able to disclose in their public warnings perfectly tracks both the specific law cited by the April 25 court order as well as the vast scope of record-gathering it authorized.

Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: “We’ve certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of ‘relevance’ to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion.” The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that.

The law on which the order explicitly relies is the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861. That is the provision which Wyden and Udall have repeatedly cited when warning the public of what they believe is the Obama administration’s extreme interpretation of the law to engage in excessive domestic surveillance

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