Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Martin Luther King Jr. was wiretapped (garrytan.com)
258 points by ghosh 1202 days ago | hide | past | web | 86 comments | favorite



This story needs some historical context. This is pointed out in the blog post, but the main reason for wiretapping King wasn't his civil rights advocacy, but his communist leanings. This in no way excuses or apologizes for the dirty tricks used by the federal government against a non-violent protestor. But this should make sense to students of US history.

Communism was the absolute defining political issue of the 20th century in America. Today communism seems like a failed political ideology, a cute thing that hippies like along with pot and drum circles. But in the 50s and 60s communism was the most evil thing imaginable, like aids spreading terrorists who block cell phone signals. Hoover in particular had spent his entire life fighting communism and saw it as the greatest threat our country had ever faced. Many of our parents or grandparents had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, ducking and covering under their desks to protect themselves from the communist threat. Growing up like that, you can imagine the fear and rabid hatred that people had for the ideology.

This isn't a story of "Evil US government subverts wiretapping power to go after peaceful protestor". This is a case of the government executing the will of the people at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back their actions seem evil, but in historical context the FBI was doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing: fighting communism with everything they had. It may sound silly to us, but back then that was the only fight that mattered. The FBI and the public didn't see it as wiretapping a private citizen, but as a part of a decades long political struggle.

Recently on HN people have been acting like the government can dominate the world through wiretapping. As if the NSA can find out a few secrets and people will bow their heads and be silent. Government wiretapping found a true dirty secret involving MLK and threatened to reveal it if he didn't change what he was saying. Did he stop? No. Did he slow down for a single second? Fuck no. True political reformers aren't cowed by blackmail and intimidation. As long as we have leaders like Martin Luther King, democracy will live forever.


the main reason for wiretapping King wasn't his civil rights advocacy, but his communist leanings

What communist leanings? My understanding is that he had none, and that this was just made up by people who disliked King for other reasons. A bit of Googling corroborates this [1], but if there's evidence I'd be curious to hear it.

If King's "communist leanings" didn't exist then they could hardly have been "the main reason for wire-tapping him" or indeed the reason for anything at all. Something non-existent can't provide any "historical context" either.

I think the context you're trying to draw leads in fact to the opposite conclusion. "Suspicion of communism" then equals "suspicion of terrorism" now, and what the story shows is how easily these powers become abused. "Suspicion of X" is a self-confirming charge after all.

Edit: I also think you're really stretching things to argue that Hoover going after King was "the government executing the will of the people".

1. http://www.snopes.com/history/american/mlking.asp. The email circular at the top of that page indicates the quality of thinking among some people who like to believe in King's "communist leanings". Thanks to Google I've just learned that there's a whole world in which this is still a thing: http://www.martinlutherking.org/thebeast.html.


What communist leanings? My understanding is that he had none, and that this was just made up by people who disliked King for other reasons.

Which was a fairly common practice at the time. Anyone expressing a political opinion that ran contrary to the ruling class was flagged "communist".


The bottom of that last page links to Stormfront. Disgusting, really.


It's implausible that Dr. King was a communist. He was a minister, and communism is explicitly atheistic.


If Iraq's WMDs didn't exist they could hardly have been the main reason for invading, yes?


Sure, I guess the distinction is between "WMDs", which couldn't cause a war because they didn't exist, and false beliefs about them, which did exist and were (arguably) one of the reasons.


The government at the time saw communism everywhere and Hoover's FBI was eager to paint any dissenter as a communist. The civil rights movement and racial relations in the US themselves were used for propaganda purposes by the Soviet Union. The evidence of MLK's 'communist leanings' of any significance is pretty weak. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther_King,_Jr.#Allega...

The idea that Hoover's FBI was somehow 'executing the will of the people' rather than the will of J. Edgar Hoover seems pretty tenuous.


One bit of evidence supporting that view is that COINTELPRO targeted not only King, but basically the entire civil-rights movement. The NAACP, CORE, the SCLC, etc. were all targeted as potentially subversive. Which in a way they were, since their purpose was to oppose the prevailing social policy in much of the country.


The evidence of MLK's 'communist leanings' of any significance is pretty weak.

Pretty weak, or non-existent? Unless I'm missing something, that Wikipedia page doesn't contain weak evidence, it contains no evidence.


It's just a roundabout, equivocating way to say 'you're full of it', since that would be rude and against site guidelines.


>This story needs some historical context. This is pointed out in the blog post, but the main reason for wiretapping King wasn't his civil rights advocacy, but his communist leanings.

Marin Luther King, Jr. leaned "communist" in the sense that he was an opponent of the Vietnam war and a proponent of social and economic equality.

The US has a history of branding dissidents as traitors. It's no different than today when the government repeatedly uses "because terrorism" to justify any action it takes.


Communism may or may not be incompatible with the US constitution. A surveillance state is _certainly_ incompatible with the constitution and threatens our civil liberties.

Having not lived during the Cold War nor studied it, I don't have a perspective on what that is like. But I find it difficult to understand the idea that a political ideology like Communism ought to be "illegal."


>Having not lived during the Cold War nor studied it, I don't have a perspective on what that is like. But I find it difficult to understand the idea that a political ideology like Communism ought to be "illegal."

Let me help:

http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/c...

Basically, every communist (Read: Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist/etc) party that existed during the 20th century took its orders from the U.S.S.R. The authoritarian form of Marxism practiced by the Bolsheviks would never fly with the population of the United States, so the Soviets would use the sympathies of American communists to leak info and sabotage national defense programs.

This meant that every communist was a de facto U.S.S.R spy in the eyes of the USA.

The above document is a report to President Truman in 1946 about the ideological underpinnings that would go on to cause the cold war.


"Basically, every communist (Read: Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist/etc) party that existed during the 20th century took its orders from the U.S.S.R."

I don't know whether you're accepting this at face value or just pointing out it was the justification offered for treating people with certain political leanings as people without rights.

But regardless it's worth pointing out that factoids like that are what give anti-Communists a bad name, as it's very, very wrong, particularly post WW2. Note that I'm saying that as someone who is very much on the anti-Communist side.


>I don't know whether you're accepting this at face value or just pointing out it was the justification offered for treating people with certain political leanings as people without rights.

A little of both, I was going to point out the existence of opposition communists, but they seemed too minor to merit mention.

Unless of course you want to show me the non-trotskyists who weren't in the pay of the U.S.S.R? I admit my knowledge of the various communist parties is pretty flimsy.[0]

[0]: This is why I qualify most of my statements with things like "pretty much" or "most of" or "almost every", guess I slipped up here.

EDIT: "pay" is probably the wrong word there, maybe "under the ideological command of" would be a better description.


I mean, pick one at random. There were a good number of Communist Parties who accepted the Moscow line hook line and sinker--the CPUSA being the foremost example of that, at times worse than non-Soviet Warsaw Pact CPs.

But, to name a couple... Spain, Italy, and the rest of the Eurocommunists (which probably should include Australia); Japan and it's very peace and anti-nuclear oriented party; China and its affiliated Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Mao Zedong thought-style parties, which killed more USSR troops in armed conflict than the USA ever did; the Khmer Rouge, which was effectively a murderous pariah state only supported by the PRC (ultimately being replaced by a leftist Soviet and Vietnamese-affiliated government); India with its half a dozen of Communist sects that I can never keep straight in elected office; Yugoslavia with its market socialism and Non-Aligned foreign policy.

There are even oddities like Albania, which took an ultra-pro-Soviet position that outpaced the Soviet Union's CP (it argued that it was turning too far away from Stalin). And ideologically the Cuban Communist Party had few moorings, mostly providing a gloss for nationalism until it actually achieved power.

Even in the USA, although CPUSA was effectively defined as the group of people with slavish devotion to the USSR, it constantly shed members or purged them, who formed their own groups that were anti-Soviet in principle, though many still grudgingly thought it was the lesser of two evils when it came to foreign policy. And the UK Communist left was infamous for its variety of views leading to a "one person, one party" system.

I'd say the biggest issue with your claim, though (aside from ignoring truculent Trotskyites, whose level of influence has persistently remained stuck at zero) is it ignores the China-USSR split. This isn't to the credit of those Communists who weren't on the USSR's side; they were the cheerleaders of the Khmer Rouge, Cultural Revolution, and Shining Path. Most USSR-affiliated ones, by contrast, steadfastly supported parliamentary tactics because they were more likely to rebound to Soviet benefit.

It was a very real and relevant split.


>I'd say the biggest issue with your claim, though (aside from ignoring truculent Trotskyites, whose level of influence has persistently remained stuck at zero) is it ignores the China-USSR split.

You're right, I was thinking of western Communist parties, but you already covered those. Have an upvote.


>Unless of course you want to show me the non-trotskyists who weren't in the pay of the U.S.S.R?

Are you kidding me?

Maoist parties (prevalent in Western Europe, especially with younger people) were against the USSR.

The New Left was anti-USSR.

In the UK too, the prevalent notion was anti-USSR.

As were tons of other communist party genres (like those based on the "Frankfurt School" of thinking, or those influenced by "Worker's councils" etc etc).


"Unless of course you want to show me the non-trotskyists who weren't in the pay of the U.S.S.R?"

Not sure about here in the USA, but after the 1965 the USSR was not supporting this communist party:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maki_%28historical_political_p...


> Unless of course you want to show me the non-trotskyists who weren't in the pay of the U.S.S.R?

> EDIT: "pay" is probably the wrong word there, maybe "under the ideological command of" would be a better description.

The biggest obvious exception are Maoists, who were quite numerous Communists but very much not under the ideological command of the USSR.


And we had our own Democracy cheerleaders trying to export our system to every corner of the globe as well.

If they were honest, they would have allowed discussion and dialog rather than the McCarthyite witch hunts and branding communism as AIDs-spreading terrorists strapped with nuclear suicide bombs.

They didn't even trust in their own ideology to survive a rigorous examination, and that's why they turned to demonization.


Not so fast. We backed multiple military coups in multiple democracies.

Basically any tin-pot dictator who wanted our support could declare themselves "anti-communist" and they had it. And many, many did so. No matter how obvious it should have been that we did not want to support their actions.


Well, that was sort of my point. We were so hell bent on fighting an enemy we'd created in our minds (and vice-versa for those in the USSR) that we lost all rationality, it seems.

I'd liken it to religious fanatics who seem incredibly fearful of other religions. If they're so sure they've got "the way," then their beliefs should be able to stand up to scrutiny or comparison with other belief systems.


>Well, that was sort of my point. We were so hell bent on fighting an enemy we'd created in our minds (and vice-versa for those in the USSR) that we lost all rationality, it seems.

No, the foreign policy actions were very rational. It's not like they got duped by some dictator posing as "anti-communist".

They knew what they were getting and what they were supporting (as all historical accounts and de-classified documents show).

They just wanted to gain influence to those parts of the world (for resources, trade routes, military bases etc) at any cost.


Yeah, I suppose that creating the enemy in communism that we did served the foreign policy purposes of the nutjobs pushing it, but it wasn't rational at the human level.


Had?


In the context of the Cold War/struggle with USSR...

But you're right, they're still out there causing havoc.


>Basically, every communist (Read: Marxist-Leninist/Stalinist/etc) party that existed during the 20th century took its orders from the U.S.S.R.

That's totally wrong. Especially in Hoover's time.

Tons of countries with ruling communist parties had broken ties with USSR or were independent in the first place, if not outright hostile (like China).

And there were also lots of non ruling communist parties, especially in Western Europe and UK, that were anti-USSR, anti-Stalinist, etc.

In the US, the so-called New Left, was decidedly anti-USSR too, (which is one of the reasons for the "New" moniker).

And that's before we add other communist parties, that were in "war" with USSR, like the Trotskyists.


I think a lot of stuff came out after the ussr fell, and Russia admitted to stuff that happened over the 20th century. One of the things they admitted was how much control they had over communist parties in the USA


It wasn't so much that Communism was illegal, but it was:

1) A witch-hunt in the context of McCarthy-ism.

2) The possibility that KGB spies could turn said person into an agent using the person's "Communist leanings."

I'm not saying that I agree with it, but I don't think that Communism was ever "illegal" in any sense (I could be wrong).


It wasn't illegal, but it was revealed many years later that pretty much every single Communist-leaning organization in the US had been receiving funds from Moscow. This doesn't justify what "Tail Gunner Joe" McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover did in persecuting suspected sympathizers (and anyone else they didn't like), of course.

Paranoia is "the unreasoning fear that others are out to get you". Only in this case, there was an element of truth to this. In the mid 50's Nikita Khrushchev spoke at the United Nations, banging his show upon the desk as he said "We will bury you!" The threat from the USSR was real.


The threat was real but it had about as much to do with the mutual distrust and, yes, paranoia of two nuclear-armed superpowers as with anything else.

A case in point is the mythology you mention - Khrushchev's shoe-banging incident was separate from the famous 'We will bury you' line and 'We will bury you' means something significantly less aggressive in context rather than when excerpted and literally translated into English.

"Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in"

This is an expression of the Communist belief in Communism's inevitable supremacy as a political system all over the world, by 'historical necessity' - it's not Khrushchev threatening the Russians are about to come over, crush their enemies, see them driven before them and hear the lamentations of their women.


> Nikita Khrushchev spoke at the United Nations, banging his show upon the desk as he said "We will bury you!"

I discovered recently that this conflates two different events

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_will_bury_you http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe-banging_incident


"it was revealed many years later that pretty much every single Communist-leaning organization in the US had been receiving funds from Moscow"

This claim needs a bit of elaboration, especially since people have called everything from SDS to the Mattachine Society to SCSC to the Black Panthers to the Union of Concerned Scientists to Greenpeace to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament "Communist-leaning."

The broader point is true: McCarthy in his factual assessment that many US institutions, including parts of the government, were infiltrated by agents of and at least in some respects directed from Moscow, was right, although his overall package was very much broken.


Real communism was pretty close to being illegal as it explicitly calls for revolution, in contrast with social democracy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smith_Act_trials_of_communist_p...

The "witch-hunt" term needs to go away. The government was lousy with communists and soviet agents. McCarthy was ultimately not very helpful, as the media has found it very easy to use him to make the anti-communists look like the real villains.


Most Smith Act convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court because people were convicted when they hadn't done anything besides being a member of a political party. That's not the sort of thing that makes anti-communists look good.


  | Real communism was pretty close to being illegal
  | as it explicitly calls for revolution, in contrast
  | with social democracy.
Marx believed that the transition to Communism would go like this:

  Democracy => Socialism => Communism
with each of those transitions being a bloody revolution. The transition to Communism wouldn't necessarily have to be a bloody revolution just because Marx thought that it would be (as evidenced, to him, by the transition from Totalitarianism => Democracy). Also, the term "Communist-sympathizer" could very well have applied to many people at the time that were more in favour of social programs like universal health care.

  | The "witch-hunt" term needs to go away.
This is one of those times that the term witch-hunt is actually useful. Once you are accused of being a Communist-sympathizer, everything you do is under a microscope, and you're guilty until proven innocent. By the time you're accused it's practically a fore-gone conclusion, and no one wants to listen to you. It's an Us vs. Them mentality, and you are accused of being one of Them, and now you have to prove that you're One of Us. Does this sound like something helpful?

  | the media has found it very easy to use him to
  | make the anti-communists look like the real villains.
This isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. It isn't a case where the 'evil people' are either the anti-communists, or the communists, and that's the end of it. No one things that the USSR was a "worker's paradise," but at the same time, "I'm working against these other bad people," is no excuse for bad behaviour.


> A surveillance state is _certainly_ incompatible with the constitution

That part isn't actually true. It's arguably and intuitively incompatible, but it's not certainly incompatible. This is a really important difference that keeps getting swept aside by ideological rants. If you're going to make the Constitution your basis for law or morality, you need to (1) know exactly what it says and (2) have a very strong sense of its history of interpretation.

I would recommend that you avoid this line of argument, though, for two reasons. One, it's not portable to other countries. "Incompatibility with the U.S. Constitution" is a bad reason for China or the UK to not become a surveillance state. This forces you into an American-centric position that's basically blind to international nuance. Two, the Constitution can and will be changed, and the reasoning for doing so is never going to be "compatibility with the Constitution".

It is rare that I would recommend a libertarian perspective, but this is a case where it would behoove you to study how they come to their positions. I recommend the libertarian one because it's simple-minded enough to take little effort to understand their reasoning process.


"communist leanings" -- When he was talking about racism it was fine. Then he started talking about poverty and Vietnam. That's what set off alarm bells.

Poverty: i.e. talking about the economic injustice that perpetuates racism. That is... how we won't all be free until poverty is eliminated. Simple-minded people can't figure out that one can be against poverty without being a communist.

Vietnam: He started asking, "Hey, why are so many black people being sent to Vietnam to die?" Well, since we were fighting communism in Vietnam anyone against the war must be for communism, right? (wrong, but that's how simple people think)

Ironically he wasn't a communist... at all. In fact, he often started public speeches (like this one http://depts.drew.edu/lib/archives/online_exhibits/King/inde... ) with a diatribe against communism. Listen to the first few minutes of that speech, it is both hilarious (he opens with some jokes) and serious.


"When gave bread to the poor, I was called a saint. When I asked why they were poor, I was called a communist."


> Recently on HN people have been acting like the government can dominate the world through wiretapping. As if the NSA can find out a few secrets and people will bow their heads and be silent.

In a democracy where we have constitutionally protected rights, why should one need the courage of MLK to do the right thing. Also, why go through the pain of following a constitution if we define right/wrong by "the will of the people at the time".


Replace "communism" with "terrorism" and you see where we are now. There are some differences though, get labeled a "terrorist" and you might not even go to court.

It's just a lot of power to give to a few. Fear of MLK had a lot more to do with him being black than communism too, think about that. You think there is a reason the batman shooting and Sandyhook weren't called terrorism? Did you observe that outright odd exchange between Romney and Obama on whether Bhengazi was "terror?"


"Today communism seems like a failed political ideology, a cute thing that hippies like along with pot and drum circles."

That's because today it's basically illegal to be liberal, so the only openly liberal folks left are super fringy. The reason why communism seems this way today has less to do with the fact that the US triumphed over communism, and more with the fact that the US triumphed over freedom.


Uhhh communists and liberals _hate_ each other, I'm not sure where you get that it's 'basically illegal to be liberal,' either. Neoliberalism is the prevailing social order at the moment.


Which != left liberalism.


>This is pointed out in the blog post, but the main reason for wiretapping King wasn't his civil rights advocacy, but his communist leanings.

A black pastor fighting for civil rights had "communist leanings"? LOL. A "commie" was just what the government used to call everyone in favour of change, regardless of what relation he had with communism, or if he had any at all.

If the "Dixie Chicks" had spoken against Bush back in 1960, they would have been labeled "commies" too. In fact, they were called that even in 2004.

>Hoover in particular had spent his entire life fighting communism and saw it as the greatest threat our country had ever faced. Many of our parents or grandparents had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, ducking and covering under their desks to protect themselves from the communist threat.

Let's not do the old trick of pining it to somebody's whimsy ("one bad apple"). Those ideas were spread in all government, not because of some irrational fear of communism, but because they wanted to protect their and their buddies interests. Anything pro-worker, pro-civil rights, or anti-war, was labelled communist -- in a similar way to today's Fox News commentary.

But the same tactics were employed far before the nuclear bomb, Hoover, or even USSR even existed. Even in the 19th century, workers demands and ethnic groups fighting for equality were met with similar tactics, police brutality and government spying.

>This isn't a story of "Evil US government subverts wiretapping power to go after peaceful protestor". This is a case of the government executing the will of the people at the time.

No, it's not. It's a case of a government that continually crashed the people and their will, to support the interests of the few (industrialists, corporations, etc).

Check the history of the labour movement in the US for more details. I'd also recommend Howard Zinn's "A people's history of the United States".

>Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back their actions seem evil, but in historical context the FBI was doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing: fighting communism with everything they had.

No, history doesn't absolve crimes. If it did then the SS did what they supposed to be doing to: fighting jews with everything they had (Godwin's law be damned). And why should they "fight communism with everything they had"? Wasn't the US supposed to be a free country, with freedom of speech and freedom to adhere to any ideology you wanted to?


I'm well aware of how big the cold war was in the west. And it got me thinking. If I W's sent back in time to the 70s or 80s, I wouldn't really be able to explain how the Soviet union fell. "it just sorta dissolved, there was no invasion, no great catastrophe...". Which is weird to think that the greatest shaper of 20th century political life just vanished


COINTELPRO did not only target suspected communists.

> As if the NSA can find out a few secrets and people will bow their heads and be silent.

To say that it doesn't have a significant influence is not credible.


> This is a case of the government executing the will of the people at the time.

How do you know that it was the will of the people of the time to persecute communists? There was no referendum.

In any case there are important protections in the US system to prevent 'mob rule' and the persecution of people for ideological purposes. These override "the will of the people at the time".

Also - "I thought i was doing the right thing" should (and generally does) not get you off the hook for any crime.


> This story needs some historical context. This is pointed out in the blog post, but the main reason for wiretapping King wasn't his civil rights advocacy, but his communist leanings.

How does that make it any different? It was not illegal to support communism.


Accusations of communism were often nothing more than a polemical tool used to attack more liberal forces in politics, such as proponents of the New Deal or racial equality, that the accuser opposed for other reasons.


Yes. This times 100. Prior to (I think) '68, there was no federal prohibition on wiretaps of any sort. Think about that before you say that the USG has never respected the 4th Amendment less than it does today.


https://ssd.eff.org/wire/govt/wiretapping-protections

Before 1967, the Fourth Amendment didn't require police to get a warrant to tap conversations occurring over phone company lines. But that year, in two key decisions (including the Katz case), the Supreme Court made clear that eavesdropping — bugging private conversations or wiretapping phone lines — counted as a search that required a warrant.

Well I've thought about it. And I think it's fair to say the USG has never respected the 4th amendment less than it does today.


How hard have you thought about it? What's the line of thought that makes the current government less respectful of the 4th amendment than, say, a government that, with the knowledge and approval of the president, sends a bunch of goons to commit burglary and dig up dirt on its political opponents?


Nixon's goon squads were reprehensible, but they involved a small number of actors and a small number of actions. It's not strictly incorrect to refer to those actors as "the government," but it's a little misleading. Nixon didn't brief congress on his burglary program. It wasn't a matter of official policy. When these activities were brought to light, the citizens were the first to know. The bulk of "the government" was just as shocked as we were. No one seriously tried to defend the actions as somehow legal because of a state of national emergency.

The current official policy, which has spanned at least two and possibly three presidential administrations, is to use a huge network of government employees and private sector labor working together to spy on virtually every single person in the country, continuously, for years. And this time, it's been sort of an open secret, endorsed and defended as legal from the highest levels, and known to Senators and rank-and-file FBI agents alike. We, the ordinary citizens, were the last to know.

I think it's much more accurate to describe the current surveillance as an activity of "the government," and I think the scale, the audacity, the hubris involved makes it clear that an awful lot of "the government" views the fourth amendment as an outdated relic that must be stamped out or revised away into meaninglessness.

I think the difference between the two examples is extreme and obvious. They are actually more different than they are alike.


Who cares how long it’s been going on, you need to take severe umbrage that at multiple points in our nation’s history the Government has taken the 4th amendment out back and beat it with a lead pipe. The difference is now, a court is allowing them to get away with it. That’s a scary proposition, because before you know it, it’ll be you going outside for some love taps from the FBI. And after that, it’ll be your kids. You don’t trade Constitutionality for antiquity. It’s wrong now, just as much as it was wrong then because if you found out about it then, you'd have been just as mad about it as you are now.


The problem is the "slippery slope," "it always gets worse," "the government is hopelessly broken," ranting that has become pervasive on HN lately. In the middle of the last century, the Supreme Court allowed the federal government to put tens of thousands of japanese americans in internment camps, including U.S. citizens. In the early 2000's, the same court said that even non-citizens caught in Afghanistan fighting against the U.S. had certain due process and habeas rights as long as they were on U.S. soil.


It seems like punctuated equilibrium with a slight downward slippery slope -- it generally gets worse (due to investigators pushing the limits little by little) until legal decisions or technological changes push back and make big changes one way or another (not always for the better).


"It seems like punctuated equilibrium with a slight downward slippery slope -- it generally gets worse."

Istanbul has been in the grips of a military crackdown of a peaceful protest about a park. In Syria, something like 90,000 people have died fighting an authoritarian regime, with no end in sight. In Iran, people won't even vote in the election (where voting is compulsory) because they know that the elections are rigged. On the other side of the coin, in the UK, you're subject to government surveillance in every public space. It's a trade-off, and the choices aren't as clear as you might believe if you limited your knowledge to what you read on Reddit and HN.

My point is that you have to be pretty cynical to suggest that the USA -- where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments -- has been on an endlessly downward slippery slope. We live in one of the most free and privileged countries on earth, and it's important to keep a sense of perspective on these things.

I don't necessarily like that the NSA is tracking phone calls, but I'm also keenly aware of the fact that they aren't dragging people out of their homes in the middle of the night, and that we don't have cars exploding daily in New York City. All things considered, we have it pretty damned well.


My point was that things get worse steadily at a pretty slow rate, day over day, and then occasionally there are big shifts for the better (or for the worse), generally in the form of legal decisions or major tech changes. The overall trend might even be net positive (especially for women/minorities in the US over the past 100 years, if not white males).

There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though.

It's like 100 98 98 97 96 130 (ITAR limited) 125 120 120 119 90 (Patriot) 89 88 140 (default to HTTPS) 135 135 133 etc.


"There's not a monotonically nondecreasing level of freedom, though."

Well, if we do nothing but maintain the current level of freedom, we're doing pretty well, historically speaking.

That said, I don't think we're on a downward slope at all -- that's just techno-nerd catastrophic thinking. The problem is that technology races forward and allows new forms of communication, our sense of entitlement increases, as does the power of anyone (governmental or private) to be intrusive. It's a constant battle against change itself, not necessarily against the surveillance state.

For example, the supreme court said that phone call metadata was collectable without a warrant in the 70s. The fact that Reddit just became aware of this fact is not a fundamental change in reality, or an example of things getting worse -- it's just an indication of how technology has changed this generation's expectations of what "privacy" means.


You can't deny that CALEA, PATRIOT, FAA, the NDAA, CIA's black site and gitmo programs, drone warfare, drone warfare against US citizens overseas, etc. weren't steps back.

While ssh replacing rsh, SSL-by-default, no crypto export restrictions for (almost all) commercial software, certain legal decisions (mainly in the 9th), etc. were steps forward. This is all independent of what reddit/hn people generally know about the situation.

"auto-updating" client software and the cloud have advantages and disadvantages at the same time.


"You can't deny that CALEA, PATRIOT, FAA, the NDAA, CIA's black site and gitmo programs, drone warfare, drone warfare against US citizens overseas, etc. weren't steps back."

I can't? Most of those things don't affect US citizens. Drone warfare arguably saves lives (you'd rather that we send soliders to do the same things?). The other things present vague, hypothetical risks (when they present risks at all), and tangible, quantifiable benefits.

Look, I'm not saying that I agree with everything that's in the Patriot Act, or that I think that the US government should have a blank check to bomb citizens via remote-controlled helicopter. But when you look at the actual risks to citizens, you find that they're pretty theoretical. The people who are objecting the loudest usually have the least reason to object (which is, ironically, part of the problem -- organizations like the ACLU have traditionally had a very tough time proving harms to citizens, and as a result, their lawsuits keep getting tossed).

But if you're going to push me to be the devil's advocate, I can quite comfortably go to the argument I made before: we don't have cars blowing up (or people walking into cafes with bombs strapped to their chests) in our cities on a regular basis, and we manage to achieve that level of safety without needing the intrusiveness of the security state of even a "reasonable", western democracy like Israel. Empirically, then, we're doing OK. A lot of the teeth-gnashing going on here is breathless exaggeration from people who have such peaceful lives that they have literally nothing better to worry about.


When did we ever have cars blowing up on a regular basis. I get your point about general life in America being OK, but that is only because many people turn a blind eye to the evils that our government is doing in our name that work against us in the longer view.

There are short-term benefits that you're talking about, but long-term costs that you seem to be ignoring as well.


> where we let the Occupy protesters linger in front of federal buildings until they were nothing but de facto homeless encampments

https://www.google.com/search?q=occupy+protests+violence+usa...


It is getting worse in my lifetime. I'd like to live in a time when it gets better.


I don't know how old you are, but the fall of the soviet union and the course of the 1990's was a big improvement. Even since the 1990's peoples' reflexive reaction to the word "communist" has gotten dramatically less. "Terrorist" has never carried the same fear factor.


Really? So the slippery slope isn't real? The police is already being trained to treat protesters are terrorists, which is also what's happening in Turkey right now [2]. When are you going to protest about it? After the revolution and others suffer and die to preserve your freedoms?

Wake up and smell the coffee. The slippery slope is real, and there are clear patterns here that you'd be wrong to ignore.

[1] http://www.theverge.com/2012/12/29/3816158/occupy-movement-w...

[2] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/everyone-who-enters-the-tak...


> Really? So the slippery slope isn't real?

It is, in fact, a logical fallacy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slippery_slope.

And the fact is that there the arc of freedom in this country has been bending towards more freedom. You are more free today, more insulated from arbitrary government action, than you were in say 1970 (Kent State shootings), 1950 (McCarthyism), 1942 (Japanese internment), 1862 (civil war), or 1800 (post-revolution paranoia).

It might be a slippery slope, but it's a slipper slope on a hill we're slowly climbing up.


The court is allowing NSA to get away with something different than what Hoover's FBI got away with.


I didn't think about it that way, I guess it's time to put away the pitchfork then.

Sidebar: It's not.


Very true, and I think is great that Garry here is including a little historical perspective on this. Civil liberties are something that have to be fought for by every generation. It may be a battle that can never be won completely, but if you stop fighting it you always lose your freedoms one by one.

That said, this White House petition makes me nervous since we still don't know the extent of what Snowden leaked.


1964 was two years after the Cuban missile crisis, when Che Guevara was nearly successful in instigating Nuclear War. Perhaps some paranoia was understandable.

But here we are, over 10 years after 9/11, and an enemy who simply does not pose any existential threat to the U.S. And yet no limits have been passed on Patriot act powers.


> "the Cuban missile crisis, when Che Guevara was nearly successful in instigating Nuclear War"

Wait, what? Even if you meant to say Khrushchev, that's extremely one-sided..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_missile_crisis

After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose), in May 1962 Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.

and from the section "Responses considered":

The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the missiles would seriously alter the military balance, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed. He was convinced that the missiles would not affect the strategic balance at all. An extra forty, he reasoned, would make little difference to the overall strategic balance. The US already had approximately 5,000 strategic warheads, while the Soviet Union had only 300. He concluded that the Soviets having 340 would not therefore substantially alter the strategic balance. In 1990, he reiterated that "it made no difference ... The military balance wasn't changed. I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."

But yes, if you consider that in a way it was a rather benign thing done to defend an ally, and compare that with the panic and hypocritical indignation about it, then the paranoia was understandable indeed; I can understand how and why it was engineered, that is.


"Guevara, who was practically the architect of the Soviet-Cuban relationship,[149] then played a key role in bringing to Cuba the Soviet nuclear-armed ballistic missiles that precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 and brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.[150] A few weeks after the crisis, during an interview with the British communist newspaper the Daily Worker, Guevara was still fuming over the perceived Soviet betrayal and told correspondent Sam Russell that, if the missiles had been under Cuban control, they would have fired them off.[151] While expounding on the incident later, Guevara reiterated that the cause of socialist liberation against global "imperialist aggression" would ultimately have been worth the possibility of "millions of atomic war victims".[152] The missile crisis further convinced Guevara that the world's two superpowers (the United States and the Soviet Union) used Cuba as a pawn in their own global strategies. Afterward he denounced the Soviets almost as frequently as he denounced the Americans.[153]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Che_Guevara#The_.22New_Man.22.2...


Perhaps the OP meant Castro, many historians have interpreted some of Castro's communications to the Soviet Union at the time as calls for pre-emptive or first-use nuclear strikes - this is mentioned a couple of times in the wikipedia page you linked.


Had me until he drew an analogy between MLK Jr and Edward Snowden.


"In 1964, after Hoover called King the most "notorious liar in the country" in a press conference, a package was sent to King in the mail, a package the House select committee ultimately traced back to the FBI. "

What I find most amazing about this story is that the House would actually do something to serve as a check on executive power.


You mean like they did when they prevented Obama from shutting down Guantanamo?


no, I believe he was talking about a house committee investigating actions by the executive branch.

you're thinking of politicking.


Oh so you mean like the Fast & Furious investigations? Or the Benghazi hearings? Or, I don't know, the impeachment of Bill Clinton?


Forget wiretapped. He was assassinated in a conspiracy with 'unspecified governmental agencies.'

"...the jury ruled that Loyd Jowers and others, including unspecified governmental agencies, were all part of the conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King Jr.[3][4]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Martin_Luther_....


>Martin Luther King Jr. was wiretapped

Well, DUH, of course he was. Even minor players in the civil rights movement were wiretapped. And tons of others besides. And those findings were used to: to blackmail, to plan police reactions, to spin, etc.

Also check:

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-us-vs-john-lennon/


That's all they were intended for.


"Some of those forces are ones that burn crosses"

An evil chapter in the FBI's history.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: