Holidays are great for myriad reasons. For gathering family and friends that you haven't seen in a while, to allow time to think about the gifts that have bestowed upon you, to have an excuse to get blackout. They are also perfect covers, acting as a joyful rug under which folks can sweep their worst secrets to attract as minimal media coverage as possible. Two such stories (of varying importance) were broken on New Years Eve. One of which you're undoubtedly aware of: Katy Perry and Russell Brand filed for divorce.
The other was the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act. Oh, you've never heard of it? Well, as of January 2nd, neither had CNN.com.
The NDAA law, signed by President Obama on December 31st as he vacationed in Hawaii, authorizes the military the legal authority to detain any American citizen without trial for an indefinite period of time if they are suspected of being a terrorist, flying in the face of guaranteed rights in our constitution. The government has given itself the power to imprison any American citizen, while being beholden to no law and no man or woman.
But we shouldn't worry. President Obama has gone on record saying how much he really didn't want to sign the bill, you guys, but he had to! And he totally promises that he'll never use that power while he's in office. Which, given his track record of promises, such as not extending the Bush tax cuts, closing down Guantanamo Bay, and, funnily enough, not signing this very bill doesn't give much comfort. Further, he promises that his administration will not abuse that power, forgetting about the opportunity he granted for every other administration that follows his until the end of time. It's as if he threw down the banana peel but refuses to take responsibility later on when the O'Doyle's car careens off a cliff.
But this act should come as no surprise. From the onset of modernity, our government has slowly repealed one of the greatest gifts the founding fathers had bestowed upon us. Each chip at our liberty came at the expense of some greater cause, almost as some sort of gift bestowed upon us. Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in internment camps after Pearl Harbor to protect our safety (…but not theirs). Communists were outed from Hollywood to Nowheresville, as sympathizers for the Soviet Union with little evidence and little connections to the Red Menace. To protect the nation, they had to ruin the lives of the very people they were trying to protect. And yet, with all of these large failures, the train kept on moving forward.
Each step in the process necessitates its own boogeymen, something that can be pointed to and used as a levying tool as more of our privacy, our freedoms, are torn away. For this generation, that cover was granted on September 11th, when terrorists who lived among us attacked our own buildings with our own planes, making any American a possible plane hijacker, shoe bomber, or general miscreant.
Soon came the Patriot Act, a precursor to the NDAA that authorizes wiretapping and electronic information gathering on any US citizen believed to have terroristic ties and share that information among various offices. If we remember the Red Scare, you'll remember that it is not too difficult to finger someone a "suspected terrorist." Couple this with new technologies that allow -- even encourage -- open information sharing (Facebook, four square, twitpics) and your entire life fits in a nice, digital backpack to be carried away.
Take Google, for example. For the last six or so years, they have accrued from me every email I've sent and received, every search item, every Blogger comment, every location entered on Google Maps (including all of the GPS data gleaned from my iPhone), every website that I've gone on that uses Google Analytics (including this one...sorry), every video I've watched on YouTube, every link or picture I like on Google+ (if I ever use Google+ again). All of that information, now tied in with my cell phone -- y'know, just in case my email gets hacked -- sits neatly on a boat with an untold number of servers, ready to be picked. We've even made it easy on them, complicit in compiling our own personal dossiers.
We live on a sliding gradient between liberty and comfort, with the idea of security held out in front of us like a pinwheel while someone takes our cookies while we're distracted by the pretty colors. It's a game of bait-and-switch with all of our personal information at stake. Look at our track record when these policies weren't legal and see what harm was caused. This is not a tinfoil hat conspiracy; we're watching our personal freedoms slip through our fingers like sand, all without the common decency of being told about it.
My mom tells a famous story about my cousin, Ed. It's one of those tales that gains its notoriety through sheer repetition, as it's a fairly general happenstance.
One day, at my grandma's house, a three-year-old Eddie declared that he, my mom, and my grandma were going to play a card game he had recently learned. Eddie grabbed a deck of cards and began to distribute them, quickly rushing through a three-year-old's understanding of five card stud, a game that the adults knew well. They all picked up their cards and started to play.
As the game moved forward, it became increasingly clear that Eddie didn't know the rules. In fact, no matter what cards he had, he would always declare himself the winner. At first, the adults let him win, as he was just a child and it kept him busy. Who cares? What do they really have to lose? But as time wore on, he kept changing the rules to the point where they would contradict themselves on consecutive hands. Eventually it became too egregious to allow to continue. My grandmother stopped him and said that those aren't the rules. "Yes, they are" Eddie said, stone faced. "This is my game."
It doesn't matter what hand you get dealt; just remember who's dealing.