We’re two weeks out from yet another federal election. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose: The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.
The U.S. government knows who you are.
And it probably would have little trouble tracking you down, because there’s a pretty strong likelihood that it has a searchable image of you.
That’s the chilling conclusion of a report from the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology released October 18, 2016.
“The result of a year-long investigation and over 100 records requests to police departments around the country,” reads The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America “is the most comprehensive survey to date of law enforcement face recognition and the risks that it poses to privacy, civil liberties, and civil rights.
“Combining FBI data with new information we obtained about state and local systems, we find that law enforcement face recognition affects over 117 million American adults. It’s also unregulated.”
And who’s to blame for that?
Two weeks from today, we’ll go to the polls (well, maybe as much as 40% of our total population of 324 million, if we’re lucky) to elect a new president, 34 senators, and 435 members of the House of Representatives.
There are countless state and local races and issues on ballots across the country, as well.
But come the end of voting on November 8, not much is likely to have changed.
It’s tempting to say that Donald Trump, a charismatic figure around whom discontented Americans have rallied over the past 15 months, and Bernie Sanders, who embodied the leftist form of this widespread disaffection but was thwarted by a well-oiled machine, landed some blows against the empire.
Still, the machine seems likely to prevail two weeks from today.
The Washington Consensus runs on national security and neoliberalism. And we let it.
We succumbed to fear in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and we cling to consumerism as the primary ideology of our everyday life.
The big winner – perhaps the only winner – is Corporate America.
Even the idea shops are for sale.
Gawker writes that a joint New York Times-New England Center for Investigative Reporting investigation published on August 8, 2016, found that “several major think tanks, while they profess to be purely research-driven organizations eager to assist in America’s robust policy debates, court companies for charitable donations in exchanges for pushing their corporate agendas.”
Thousands of pages of internal memos and confidential correspondence between Brookings and other donors – like JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank; K.K.R., the global investment firm; Microsoft, the software giant; and Hitachi, the Japanese conglomerate – show that financial support often came with assurances from Brookings that it would provide “donation benefits,” including setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials, according to documents obtained by The New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
Similar arrangements exist at many think tanks. On issues as varied as military sales to foreign countries, international trade, highway management systems and real estate development, think tanks have frequently become vehicles for corporate influence and branding campaigns.
These are not new problems.
Indeed, 180 years ago, in a May 27, 1836, speech, Senator John C. Calhoun, noted, “A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many and various and powerful interests… and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus in the banks.”
Calhoun was perhaps the most eloquent defender of the concept of states’ rights in the Ante-bellum period. He also spoke forcefully on the dangers of the tyranny of the majority, though, ironically, he also defended Southern traditions, including slavery, and was the ideological godfather of that group of radicals known as “fire-eaters.”
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So it’s easy to dismiss Calhoun and his ideas with the benefit of “presentism.” Let’s not, however, mince words: Slavery was a moral wrong, a violation of natural law from the jump.
But Calhoun’s influence on U.S. public policy and political thinking can’t be dismissed, particularly when it comes to understanding the agglomeration of power.
Another slaveholding Southerner, Thomas Jefferson, is now a legendary champion of agrarian democracy, widely credited with saying, “That government is best which governs least.”
But it was actually Henry David Thoreau, reflecting on slavery, the Mexican-American War, and U.S. imperialism, who first turned the phrase to open his famous pamphlet On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.
Thoreau also had in mind the stultifying impact of industrialization and proliferating market ideology on liberty of conscience.
That it’s not really a Jeffersonian maxim – and so not expressly part of the Founders’ thinking – is important. Context is critical. Thoreau was reacting to slavery and the expansion of U.S. territory via war to expand indentured servitude.
Liberty of conscience more than economic liberty was on his mind.
Thoreau lived during a period of rapid economic growth, at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. He was concerned by free enterprise and its capacity to reduce man to mere producers, buyers, and sellers.
In Walden, he pondered the “seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”
And he warned, “But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.” And those tools were functions of slavery and war.
We’ve done away with the latter. The former, however, is still a primary organizing principle for society and government.
At the conclusion of Backfire: How to Destroy a Presidential Candidate, a documentary short produced by Nate Silver’s data journalism outfit FiveThirtyEight.com, the veteran political reporter Sam Donaldson sums up the American-style struggle for power:
The way to look at politics today – unfortunately – is not the way that purists would have it. It’s not the way young people want it. It’s the way it is. And the way it is is tough. Unyielding. Almost anything works. If it works, never mind if it’s ethical. Never mind whether it’s fair. Never mind whether it’s factual. If it works, for you, do it.
To the power elite that run our empire, the ends justify the means.
The good news is people are starting to wake up to their distorted reality.
This Week In…
Anger, which, as FT Alphaville’s David Keohane explains, is a phenomenon driving voters not just in the U.S. presidential election but in electoral contests all over the developed world:
“It’s a bigly trend with enormous consequences for fiscal and monetary policy. But the rise of voter rage in advanced democracies is a hard narrative to chart, what with the lack of data and the abundance of anecdote.”
Keohane shares a set of charts and tables compiled by Marvin Barth of Barclays Plc, who defines “voter rage as a drop in the combined vote share of the center-right and center-left parties as voters shift to parties that they believe better reflect their frustrations.”
The bottom line is the “biggest source of voter rage appears to be a sense of economic and political disenfranchisement.”
Editorial Director, Wall Street Daily