Sunday July 14, 2013

RICHMOND

It has become my custom to read the Declaration of Independence printed on the editorial page of this newspaper every Fourth of July. Part of it has to do with my awe at Thomas Jefferson's turn of phrase in various parts of the document, part with how these men were putting their lives on the line, and part with the culpability of Great Britain in its rule over various parts of the world.

I do not rise to my feet and sing all four stanzas of "The Star Spangled Banner" after refreshing my memory, but I do have a little tightening of the chest muscles and a vivid picture of how lucky we are to be citizens of the United States of America.

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Which brings us to the current hubbub about whether we are in some secondary stage of Orwell's "1984," residing in Airstrip One, working (if you're lucky) for Big Brother and accustomed to doublethink. In real life, a young, eccentric man named Edward Snowden, working for a private contractor that works for the government, revealed to the media that everybody's e-mail (this means EVERYBODY'S) was being scanned courtesy of the National Security Agency. This is supposedly to catch terrorists before they blow up Boston.

The TV cable news shows immediately went berserk and network news shows created their own magic versions of what was going on. Despite the bedlam of the press, the United States public did everything but yawn.

Sixty-nine percent of U.S. citizens felt that fighting terrorism was more important than protecting anybody's privacy. Only 36 percent were outraged.

Eighty-five percent took it for granted that their emails, phone calls and Internet usage were already being monitored by the government. I personally feel that this is a result of television crime shows demonstrating how all this electronic magic is successfully done. Anyone who has seen the splendid "Homeland" television series knows this to be true.

The shocking results of the polls taken on our government assuming the role of Big Brother certainly made me sit up and take notice. Which side was I on, the 36 percent howlers or the 85 percent sheep?

I have been a private person my whole life. People think they know me inside and out because of the articles I have written over the past 60 years, but they are wrong. And I don't like the idea of the government snooping into my private life through emails or phone calls or what I might order over the Internet.

The thing is I don't like to write personal emails or engage in phone conversation or buy anything anywhere. My family has always believed I have no fashion sense so they have dressed me according to their tastes. I am Eliot's "Hollow man" to the inch.

And then it turned out that the U.S. Postal Service has been taking pictures of the billons of letters mailed every year. We now know why the federal payroll takes such a large slice out of our taxes. Our military forces are being shortchanged. The officer corps does all right, generals and admirals better than all right. But the big bucks are going to the people who are monitoring our every move, our every word, our every action. And all those people make big bucks, more and more and more.

What bothers me the most is that too many of these people are private contractors to the government and we have no idea of who they are, what they are, and why they are. Too much of tax money is being wasted on "intelligence" rather than on expanding our nation's intelligence.

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So it's up to each one of us to decide how much we want to expose ourselves to the world in general and our very own government. Of course, most of us are no danger to our country. Our secrets are all very personal and have nothing to do with terrorism. What we have to worry about more is who is leading our government.

I have faith in Barack Obama despite several serious quibbles with his actions and non-reactions. I had no faith in Richard Nixon and worry about what might happen to us if a Nixon doppelganger or a George W. Bush manages to sneak in again with all those new electronic toys for them to play with.

As Pogo succinctly put, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.