Oct 4th 2014

The Smoking Crater Theory of Civil Liberties

by Michael Levin

New York Times best selling author Michael Levin is a nationally acclaimed thought leader on the subject of the future of book publishing.Michael Levin believes that the traditional publishing model is dead, thanks to the long-term foolishness of the major houses and their willful ignorance of new technologies for the marketing and distribution of books.Levin appeared on ABC's Shark Tank for his ghostwriting company, BusinessGhost, Inc., which has authored more than 120 books. E-Myth creator Michael Gerber says Levin has created more successful books than any human being in history.He has written with Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, football broadcasting legend Pat Summerall, football stars Chad Hennings and Maurice Jones-Drew, NBA star Doug Christie, and Fox News broadcaster Chris Myers, among many others. He also edited Zig Ziglar’s most recent book, Born To Win. Michael Levin has contributed to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, CBS News, Forbes.com, The Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and many other top media sources.He blogs at The Future of Publishing. You can ‘like’ his company's page on Facebookhere.Michael Levin has also launched a free resource for writers on YouTube. Over 200 videos, with Michael Levin, discussing every aspect of fiction and nonfiction writing and publishing. Visit http://www.BooksAreMyBabies.com for more.

After 9/11, the U.S. Congress put together a bill called the Patriot Act, a grab bag of goodies the intelligence community had long craved. The intent was to remedy problem areas in the gathering and use of intelligence on our enemies at home and abroad.

To oppose the Patriot Act was, well, unpatriotic, and it passed both houses of Congress rapidly and with little dissent. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law within sixty days of 9/11.

There were definitely problems. Intelligence agencies were “stove piped”—they didn’t share information with one another because they didn’t have the capacity to share information with one another. Even after 9/11, FBI offices around the country were reduced to faxing—remember faxing?—photos of Al Qaeda suspects, because they didn’t even have the capability of sharing photos by any more technologically advanced means. 

The Patriot Act, and the super-Patriot Act that followed, engendered huge civil liberties debates in this country. Those debates boiled down to one basic argument: What good are civil liberties if there’s nothing left of your country but a smoking crater?

Fast forward two wars and thirteen years. America now has a war that pretty much all of us can get behind, unlike Iraq, where Saddam Hussein might have been a bastard but for many years he was our bastard, and Afghanistan, where our attempt to move people out of the 12th century has been met with derision, failure, and unnecessary American deaths. 

Intriguingly, this time around, there are practically no voices of concern regarding any new governmental intrusion on our civil liberties as America gears up to fight ISIS.

Our attitude this time around is one of weariness instead of alertness. 

“Do whatever you have to do,” America is telling its government. “Just take these guys out.”

If the conversations, travel arrangements, banking habits, and social media feeds of average Americans are under more scrutiny by the usual suspects—the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the EIEIO, for all I know—it doesn’t seem as though anyone is particularly bothered. 

So what changed?

Thirteen years ago, “social” meant hanging around with your friends and “media” was something you either watched or got your news from. 

Today, social media is the means by which most of us stay connected with everyone who currently is or ever has been in our lives, from grade school to the present moment.

The internet has also become ubiquitous in our lives. It wasn’t too many years before 9/11 that many people would not shop online, either because the process was too bulky and annoying or because we simply did not trust the idea of putting credit card data onto a website. 

The internet, in the form of social media and online shopping, has essentially robbed Americans of the privacy they once took for granted.

It wouldn’t be hard for a moderately sophisticated hacker to put together a day in the life of just about anyone. How you browsed online. What you said to your friends, either on the phone or in an email. What you bought. What naughty videos you downloaded. And so on.

Information about each of us is bought and sold daily, and we have accepted a previously unimaginable level of intrusiveness in our lives in exchange for the ease and speed that shopping online or using social media offers. 

In other words, privacy meant something thirteen years ago.

Today, we don’t have it, and it appears that we don’t miss it all that much. 

In one of the recent Jack Reacher novels, author Lee Child observes that if the U.S. government had decreed that all Americans were required to carry devices in their pockets or purses that identified where they were, who they were communicating with, and what they were looking at online, the civil liberties outcry would’ve been enormous. Instead, everybody got a cell phone, and the government was free to snoop as it saw fit.

And that’s where we are today. As we enter this third war in thirteen years, we seem to have no interest at all in a civil liberties debate. Let the government do whatever it needs to do. Let it snoop with impunity if it can find the bad guys that much faster. Don’t bother me—I’m doing Facebook and I’m not caught up. 

They used to say that in war, truth is the first casualty.

No longer. Today, the first casualty of war is privacy, but it seems that for most of us, privacy is an acceptable loss.

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More Current Affairs

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "