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Burglars Who Took on F.B.I. Abandon Shadows (nytimes.com)
429 points by philipn 1238 days ago | hide | past | web | 88 comments | favorite



    Among the grim litany of revelations was a blackmail letter
    F.B.I. agents had sent anonymously to the Rev. Dr. Martin 
    Luther King Jr., threatening to expose his extramarital
    affairs if he did not commit suicide.
Hoooooly shit. Wow. They actually did that.


If anyone saw the movie "A Serious Man", you may remember that the protagonist's employer received anonymous poison pen letters regarding himself. I know someone that happened to in real life. His name is Louis Proyect. He was a student in the 1960s and got involved with the anti-war movement, and then became a programmer at Metropolitan Life still active in the anti-war movement. The FBI used to send anonymous poison pen letters to his employer, Met Life, in order to try to get him fired.

Actually he got his hands on some FOIA documents after a lawsuit, he has some of them on his web page:

http://louisproyect.org/2007/08/19/encounters-with-the-fbi


Yup. Supposedly Martin Luther King Jr.'s wife read the letter first, possibly at MLK's request.

This is why the NSA revelations are so scary. This kind of stuff has already been done, and the NSA could do it so much worse, to so many more people.


Weapons get used. Power gets used.

Until 2013 it was possible to think that the NSA spying wasn't really pervasive, wasn't really against all Americans. Now we know better, but we still think that NSA blackmailing of politicians and others is just too out there, conspiracy theory.

But the government has already done exactly that, and probably more. And they'll do it again. Dick Cheney's office outed a covert CIA spy for political revenge.

Every overly powerful organization, whether government, corporate or just personal wealth, will be corrupted eventually, because they will inevitably attract corrupt people.


All of this has happened before and all of this will happen again. As bad as we think the NSA is today the FBI in its "glory days" under Hoover were far, far worse. McCarthy was far worse. "Existential risk to the republic" worse.

The NSA is not "that bad", yet, probably. But the potential is there, if anything the potential for badness is far worse and the ability to reign it in seemingly diminished.

Edit: Also, the fundamental problem today is not the NSA, it's just a symptom. Even if we completely defunded the NSA tomorrow as well as put every NSA employee on a rocket and shot them into the Sun it would still not solve the underlying problem and it would just be a matter of time before we'd be facing the same issues from some other direction.

The problem is that the constitution has been weakened, in pretty much every way. But one important aspect to that is the idea that things that happen on the internet aren't "real" in some basic way that makes the absence of legal protection of fundamental liberties online acceptable.


>As bad as we think the NSA is today the FBI in its "glory days" under Hoover were far, far worse. McCarthy was far worse.

I disagree, 100%. The NSA is far more powerful, and far - FAR - more dangerous now than the FBI ever was under Hoover.

If you don't think this is the case, I don't think you're really looking honestly at the situation. In the Hoover/FBI days, we had a chance - the Operation Snow Whites' and so on. Now, however, there is no such chance: the NSA has far, far too many safe-guards in place to protect itself, and has infiltrated - and controls, directly - too many so-called 'peace movements' and other groups that might have a chance at awakening the sheeple. We must be more diligent, and with greater resolve to fight back now, than ever before in history - because we are at the cusp of allowing a seriously evil influence over the world to have its will - whereas in the 60's and 70's, people were willing to stand up and fight, now hardly anyone will. At all.


As I said the potential is worse, likely far worse, but right now it's not quite there (maybe?).

Back in the worst days with Hoover they were actively targeting specific political activists and basically running black ops against them. We haven't reached that stage with NSA, as far as I can tell, though the potential is certainly there.

Maybe you misinterpreted what I said, it shouldn't be an excuse to wait until things get worse before taking action. The fact that the potential is there should be enough.


>We haven't reached that stage with NSA, as far as I can tell, though the potential is certainly there.

We HAVE reached that stage, and worse. The NSA - and other spook agencies - are actively engaged in warfare with various social/peacenik groups, and has been demonstrated time and again as a constant source of infiltration, provocation, and so on. Agent-Provocateur isn't just the name of a knicker factory - its a real tactic deployed against enemies of the regime, which include civic groups (unions), churches and other citizen organizations.

We simply cannot have this power out there, in the hands of these people.


I don't get it. If we start with COINTELPRO as the baseline, why would the current situation be any better?

Nothing happened, the programs continued, the people running it back then are now happily retired or left the world without a mark on their record. There were no mass firings of the hundreds of agents directly implicated in these obviously unethical and illegal things.

The people running COINTELPRO back then to find the communists tutored the government agents that are now trawling through the massive NSA data to find terrorists. The capabilities were only expanded.


In the UK the editor of the Guardian was pulled up in front of parliament (like congress but with a two drink minimum) and one of the questions he was asked was "Do you love this country?". It immediately brought to mind McCarthy.


One important thing to remember, not that it justifies these actions, was that the US faced a much more dangerous enemy at the time. The amount of damage that Al Qaeda can do is orders of magnitude lower than Soviet Russia.


Call me paranoid, but I am expecting a comeback of such things, considering this: http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/05/fbi_drops...


In the wake of Nelson Mandela's death, there were a lot of people who expressed the sentiment that he was not actually a great man, because he espoused violence, because he blew things up, etc.

I've seen similar sentiments expressed about Dr. King. In short, he was a womanizer who does not deserve our praise. He is lauded for political purposes.

It makes me wonder if the government embraces, and perhaps even plants, ideas like this. Nobody is perfect, and the more stuff somebody accomplishes, the less perfect they're likely to be. No hero will be without something like this to tarnish their image. By convincing the public that a hero should be perfect, they can hold their past transgressions over them in order to gain compliance, as the FBI tried to do here. They can control the narrative afterwards, by concentrating on the flaws of heroes they don't like, and ignoring the flaws of those they do.

It certainly seems to have happened in politics, anyway. Few candidates with anything interesting to say make it to office, since they inevitably have something pointless but "scandalous" in their past. If they do, then the threat of exposure should work wonders for getting them to behave.


> It makes me wonder if the government embraces, and perhaps even plants, ideas like this.

With full awareness that governments have done this, I really wish people would stop thinking that if a group of rational people oppose things done by one of our heroes, that it could only be as a result of a government sockpuppet.

Rhetoric as a concept or tool is incredibly expansive, it's hardly limited to just government. And it wasn't that long ago that Che Guevara was insulting the USA during his speech to the UN for the Ku Klux Klan, the existence of which should readily demonstrate that the people themselves will erect biases and grudges of their own independent of (and often contrary to) government interference.

The same government responsible for the agency that threatened MLK, also had to forcibly integrate segregated schools, and forcibly adopt so many other civil rights measures that are still debated today.

But in any event if you have paid enough attention to politics (or at least American politics) it would be clear that having minor scandals is not only not a roadblock, but can often be used to great effect in a politician's career. If one thinks "the people" are too stupid to figure this out then would could possibly be the point of a democracy?

Let people point out what they want about Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, or anyone else (especially if it's true!). People see the world through different lenses, one may worry more about what our hero does "when no one is watching for compliance" as a measure of integrity. Another may worry only about what the hero does in public as a measure of effectiveness. That doesn't make one or the other of these people a government plant, it just means that we're (wonderfully) different.


You're right that people do this plenty fine on their own, and don't need anybody making it happen. Still, that doesn't mean government wouldn't try to encourage it.

However, I disagree that some people worry more about what a hero does when nobody is watching as a measure of his integrity. I have never once seen anyone apply this idea consistently. Always, always, always it is used against those heroes whom the person dislikes, while similar transgressions by those they like are ignored.

I'm sure there's somebody out there who doesn't do that, but I have yet to meet him.


> In the wake of Nelson Mandela's death, there were a lot of people who expressed the sentiment that he was not actually a great man, because he espoused violence, because he blew things up, etc.

I saw the same thing- but mostly from liberals claiming conservatives were whitewashing his legacy and shortchanging the struggle against apartheid.


That's one of the least nasty things they did... they've intentionally infected thousands of people with nasty diseases, overthrown democratically elected governments, assisted in military coups, cheated, lied and stolen for years and years.


They sent a tape with recordings of him having sex with a mistress too.


It is hard to conceive of the risk faced by these folks in order to carry out what was in effect an act of civil disobedience -for no personal gain.

Bravo!

Unfortunately it looks like such courageous folks are the last remaining defense against absolute tyranny in the United States. One wonders how many such actions are even possible with the advent of the global surveillance state?


Snowden showed such actions to reveal government surveillance are still possible.

The bigger question now is whether his revelations can create any change.


> The bigger question now is whether his revelations can create any change.

It will. It will change the acronym involved. First from FBI to NSA. Now from NSA to something else.

Edit: not a statement of cynicism; merely predicting what the government will attempt to do.


> such actions to reveal government surveillance are still possible.

I worry for how long it will remain so.


What strikes me is how little was gained by both sides in this, and how futile their actions seem in hindsight.

History probably would have ended up in a similar way if Hoover had not devoted so many resources to spying on Viet Nam protestors and counter culture revolutionaries. He was really pursuing his lifelong obsession with communism, which was another political movement that probably would have died without so much government surveillance. His spying didn't do anything to dissuade Martin Luther King or other members of the Civil Rights movement. All that effort and violation of privacy for a difficult to discern impact on history.

Stealing and publishing documents from the FBI didn't seem to have much of an impact either. There was a temporary public outcry, some commissions were established and the whole thing was forgotten in less than a decade. We just wound up in the same situation 40 years later and will most likely end up with the same results. It takes a mountain of courage to steal from the freaking FBI, and that group of people deserve credit for standing up for what they believed in. If only their risk produced a more appreciable reward for society.

I fear a never ending cycle of surveillance and protest. Chicken and the egg. The stakes seem higher now, on both sides, but there are no guarantees that we won't go through the whole process again to achieve the same non-result. We need to figure out how to use the political process instead of theft to stop our government agencies from doing things that we don't like. Or else we'll be reading this same story again decades from now.


> What strikes me is how little was gained by both sides in this, and how futile their actions seem in hindsight.

To quote Chuck Palahniuk: "On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero."

If you give history enough time, it will always look like little has been gained in terms of eradicating oppression. Sure, some forms of oppression don't exist anymore, but society evolves other forms as a replacement.

I don't honestly believe we'll ever "figure out how to use the political process [...] to stop our government agencies from doing things that we don't like." I think history is like a power game where rules keep changing over time because one side keeps finding ways to rig the game. Sooner or later, there's enough evidence that the game is rigged and the other side realizes that it's futile to keep playing by the same rules and finds a new way to fight back.


You are quite right, and there is an older commentator than Palahniuk to invoke. The original quote comes from John Maynard Keynes in his 1923 "Tract on Monetary Reform":

But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.

Pray that we will always have someone standing up against the surveillance state.


A lot was gained. Proof. And continued exposure of what government's really do with all that power: they protect it. That knowledge is always there, all you have to do is read. Not everyone does, but it's enough that it's there.


"Stealing and publishing documents from the FBI didn't seem to have much of an impact either. There was a temporary public outcry, some commissions were established and the whole thing was forgotten in less than a decade."

I think what they did was both brave and highly valuable. They went through great risks to ignite a spark among their fellow citizens, so they would join them in opposing these practices.

It's a shame that the majority of their fellow citizens decided to ignore the problem. I too fear that we're going into "never ending cycle of surveillance and protest", but because democracy requires active participation from citizens, and these rarely do anything but complain and, sometimes, vote.


> Stealing and publishing documents from the FBI didn't seem to have much of an impact either

If I recall correctly, the fall out conveniently drowned in noise from the Watergate affair.

Watergate was silly childs play compared to the COINTELPRO revelations though.


The depths of watergate were pretty bad, but most people concentrate on just the burglary. The fact that the president was using government forces as his personal bag men, bribing people with campaign funds, using the IRS to harass political enemies etc. was extraordinarily bad. Democracy poisoning bad.


there are more than those two sides. this definitely altered the balance between the left and right in the US. this lead to shutting down COINTELPRO, the PRISM of that age.


.. and it led to the opening of other programs, now much more sinister and nefarious in purpose, which means: the war is still being fought.


PRISM is not the COINTELPRO here. PRISM is the photocopier of the COINTELPRO era, nothing more.


It seems axiomatic that there will be a never ending cycle of contention regarding the limits of government power. The government, the citizens, and lawbreakers are all in essence living beings, and as such will compete for resources. It's your role as a citizen to push back.

And the Church Commission, a partial result of these documents coming to light, had real consequences, and imposed real limits on government power.


If the government was scary powerful then, it is terrifying now.

If you've ever protested anything in the USA, regardless if on the left or right, you can almost certainly count on your name on some kind of tracking, and they've given themselves legal permission, because they don't have to look at the data in real-time anymore. They can just store it and look at it later on demand if they want with frictionless warrants from courts with no lawyer "for the people" present.

If the government feels you've become an annoyance they can just pop you on a no-fly list without court review and no-way to get off. And heaven help you if you go near a border if they've peaked their interest in you, all your data is theirs without any need for warrant or even a reason.

The government has also learned the secret that if they want to control the message, they just have to limit media exposure. Release news late on a Friday and it will be gone by Monday. Control court trials to the point where there is no audio or video and TV news will almost certainly not cover it. They are getting incredibly good at this.

The newest corruption since 9/11 is to insist they need super powers for anti-terrorism, then use them against average criminals. Even worse, if no real criminals can be found, manufacturer one by constantly harassing some dupe until they do something half-assed and then roll them out for the cameras to justify the insane budgets and overeaching powers.


If you've protested something? WRONG. I cannot emphasize enough that they do not restrict surveillance to suspected protestors or terrorists. They spy on everyone and every device they possibly can.

EVERYBODY is being spied on right now. There is NO preselection of who gets spied on and who doesn't. They are using fake mobile cell towers, packet injection, deep packet inspection, and actively attempt to infect ANY computer they can in ANY way they can.

They are spying on you right now. They possibly have webcam photos of you. They possibly have some of your passwords, personal communications, and other info they try to collect ON EVERYONE.

Don't believe me? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLT7ao1V8vY


I see most of the interesting comments here so far are from a strictly American perspective, that is just commenting on what was happening in the United States then or is happening in the United States now. But of course there is more than one country in the world. In another place I have lived[1] a supposedly democratic government that in fact was a dictatorship engaged in comprehensive spying on all civil society organizations--not just the organizations that were formally opposition organizations--and stifled all mass media organizations with censorship. That didn't stop a people-power democracy movement from starting and succeeding in democratizing that country. I've advised Hacker News participants before[2] that people power democracy movements to overthrow dictatorships with comprehensive surveillance programs are not easy, but they can succeed. You and I need mental toughness, persistence, and courage to be part of the solution, but what better reward for those virtues is there than expanded freedom (and the dignity of knowing you did the right thing)? Don't give up. Keep on organizing to gain freedom and protect civil rights.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5985720

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6336795


My guess is that things will have to get worse before they can get better, that it's paradoxically easier to democratically overthrow a true dictatorship than the sort of increasingly-oppressive democracy we see in the US.

I say this because most Americans are generally happy with the system. There are aspects they dislike, and lots of results they dislike, but there is still deep respect for the system itself in the people. I think the system may have reached a point where it no longer works well, but it still gives the appearance of doing so.

Dictatorships famously have rigged elections to give the regime the appearance of democracy. However, nobody actually believes it. The dictator wins roughly 99.44% of the vote and everybody knows the election is a sham.

Here, we have pretty decent elections that are mostly fair and well contested, but which ultimately don't accomplish much. We end up choosing between two candidates who have few differences when it comes to how they'll handle civil liberties, elections, third parties, and such. But the vast majority of the population doesn't see it that way, and so the election, and the system as a whole, is seen as legitimate even though it doesn't really work.

Worse, the system manages to control public opinion to perpetuate itself. Most Americans are deeply afraid of terrorism and welcome extreme measures to fight it. Expressing the idea that we should prosecute terrorists as common criminals and accept the occasional mass-casualty attack gets you labeled as a crazy person. This despite the fact that terrorism is a minor threat to our lives compared to almost every other way we can potentially die, even when you restrict it to ways you can die by being killed intentionally by other humans.

Just like elections, the propaganda machine is seen as legitimate, unlike in a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, the state news agency works as a government mouthpiece and nobody believes what they say. In the US, nominally independent media organizations work as mouthpieces of the government but since there are a bunch of them, and they're nominally independent, and they express what appears to be a wide range of views (which is actually only wide within the narrow range of what's considered mainstream), people respect them.

I'm not saying that it's hopeless or that we should give up the fight. But I do think that it's not entirely right to point out successes in overt dictatorships as proof that the current situation in the US can be fixed. I may be wrong, but it is possible that the current situation is good enough to make it far more difficult to actually improve it.


> We end up choosing between two candidates who have few differences when it comes to how they'll handle civil liberties, elections, third parties, and such...

I keep hearing this sentiment, but I think it assumes a lot, so I can't agree with it. Here are some issues I have with this sentiment:

- There has been dramatic change at the national level, the ACA being an obvious example of that.

- To the extent that big changes don't happen, that's due to gridlock, not a lack of choice.

- This gridlock is due to a very divided electorate. No political camp can really claim a supermajority (greater than 65%) of the hearts and minds of the voters. The U.S. government is set up to move slowly when there isn't something nearing consensus.

Also, on another point, the typical citizen is not happy with the government, just tired, apathetic, and fatalist. Happy electorates do not create Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.


Note that I didn't say the two candidates are the same on everything, only on those certain issues. I agree that there are substantial differences when it comes to things like health care policy, but those are unrelated to civil liberties. I voted for Obama twice partly because of his support for health care reform (even though I don't particularly like his version of it, I think it's the best we can hope for at the moment), but I had no illusions about how he'd handle the post-9/11 security state.

Likewise, gridlock is preventing big changes on certain issues, but not these. There is nearly universal consensus among politicians in both major parties when it comes to civil liberties and things of that nature. How many members of Congress want meaningful electoral reform? How many members of Congress voted to close down Guantanamo Bay? It's not gridlock stopping these things.

And again likewise, there's no real division in the electorate on these issues. There's lots of division over things like tax policy and health care and such, but not much over civil liberties.


> How many members of Congress voted to close down Guantanamo Bay?

Most recently, a majority of the Senate -- almost entirely Democrats, though three Republicans joined -- and 174 members of the House, also mostly on party lines.

So, not exactly the best example of an issue where the parties are aligned.

> It's not gridlock stopping these things.

Well, except that, at least in the case of closing the detention facility at Gitmo, its exactly Republicans in control of the House blocking the position that the Democratic-controlled White House, the Democratic-majority Senate, and Democrats in the House all support.


Do you have a pointer to that most recent vote? Everything I can find has solid majorities of both houses voting against closure or transfers, although it is indeed not as solid as I made it out to be in my previous comment.



Thanks, my searching didn't turn that one up. Seems that opinion on this one is moving somewhat. Like you said, bad example.


I'm not sure how much is a change of opinion and how much of it is an erosion of the decision by Democrats to simply deny the issue to Republicans after the Administration fumbled the political optics (or, arguably, was a victim of deliberate, highly-placed sabotage from within on the political optics) to focus on other areas; if you look at the politics of the 2009 vote, it wasn't that both sides were opposed, it was that the Republicans were opposed and doing a full-spectrum attack, and the Democrats collapsed after the administration -- which was pushing to close Guatanamo -- showed incoherence with the testimony of FBI Director Mueller raising concerns of attacks in America if prisoners were transferred to the US. Even simultaneously with the near unanimous votes to block funding for closing Guatanamo, you see many of the Democrats who voted to block funding saying that they supported closing Guatanamo and would vote for it given a specific closure plan that addressed security concerns.

I think the gaps always been there, but a very specific event threw a monkey wrench in the political viability of the Democrats pursuing what was clearly their preference all along.


> I agree that there are substantial differences when it comes to things like health care policy, but those are unrelated to civil liberties.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the individual mandate was constitutional. This was (and is) a highly contested question of civil liberties. The questions about which organizations (if any) should be compelled to pay for coverage for abortions is a civil liberties question as well.


It may be highly contested but it's not highly important. It won't make a particularly big difference, freedom-wise, whether the mandate exists or not.

As long as both major parties remain supportive of indefinite detention without trial, of assassinating Americans without trial, of routinely bombing foreign countries without a declared war or any sort of authorization, of wholesale spying on the American public, of imprisoning people who take the wrong kind of drugs, and so on like that, then stuff like the individual mandate is a sideshow. It's exactly the kind of not-terribly-important issue that's used to make people think that the system works.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on the difference between, basically, the numbers 299 and 301. Everybody, from Congress to the Supreme Court to the news media to the average Joe on the street, acts like 299 is extreme in one direction, 301 is extreme in the other direction, and 300 is the "middle". Meanwhile, the numbers 1-1000 are ignored.

We should be having highly contested questions on the massive abuses being perpetuated by the US government, but instead that energy all gets pumped into little stuff like whether it's OK to make a small extension to the government's power to tax, or whether the punishment for not having health insurance should simply be random bankruptcy and premature death. Don't get me wrong, health reform is an important issue, but it's not an important civil liberties issue.


I wouldn't put it past the current government to try and push through a new bill so that they could remove the statute of limitations in cases like this where "national security was compromised", so that they can now still prosecute the "traitors".

I also wouldn't put it past the current government to use that new power to then posthumously prosecute Mr. Davidon who "died late last year from complications of Parkinson’s disease".

Call me cynical, but nothing that USG does to further "protect" its "national security" would surprise me anymore.


Given that ex post facto laws are specifically prohibited in the Constitution, that sounds fantastically farfetched even for this thread.


Ex post facto doesn't necessarily come into play with statute of limitations though. Ex post facto prevents a once-legal situation from becoming illegal, so as (extreme hyperbole here) to prevent the government from outlawing reading books tomorrow, and punishing everybody who read a book today. There are additional sideways extensions to ex post facto that prevent milder penalties from being increased, and that sort of thing (e.g., so that if they'd arrested Capone on Jaywalking, they can't increase the penalties to be life-long prison sentences or what have you), but there aren't any provisions in the actual Constitution that prohibit adjustments of statute.

That said Stogner v. California is the relevant case here, which ruled that express act as unconstitutional, despite its omission from the Constitution proper, but even in that case, it was overturned, then upheld, then overturned again, so its provisions aren't so obvious that some clever wording couldn't complicate the issue further enough into more vagueness. Lest we forget that the government can, and very often does pass laws that seem "clearly" unconstitutional. Even further, sometimes those laws are upheld.


Ex post facto, such as the retroactive changes in CA tax law?


Way back to Calder v. Bull in 1798, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the ex post facto restriction applies to criminal law, not civil matters like taxation.

Unusual retroactive taxation could face a due process challenge, but the basic "pass a tax law January 20 that extends backwards to January 1" kind of retroactivity has been upheld several times.


Just because the Supreme Council condones something does not mean that it is consistent with the Constitution (which is itself only relevant because it's USG's purported charter).


Just because the Supreme Council condones something does not mean that it is consistent with the Constitution...

Assuming that by "Supreme Council" you mean "Supreme Court" -- that is exactly what it means. There is no way to determine whether or not a thing is in accordance with the Constitution other than to ask a court to decide. It's called The Rule of Law.

The other system is called, "internet randos and other people with Ron Paul signs in front of their house decide what the Constitution means." I'll take the first one, thank you.


So then according to your viewpoint, the text of the Constitution is an opaque blob to anyone besides the SC. Since there's no way for an individual to judge for themselves whether the government's charter is being followed, we must simply accept any decree from the ruling council of nine. This does not sound like "The Rule of Law" to me.


The personal opinions of private citizens are not binding whereas judgments are. Ergo, opaque blob or not, unelected and unappointed citizens don't get to pass binding interpretations of the Constitution. Everyone has an opinion, but only specific people are empowered to enforce their interpretations and the rest of us agree to limit us only democratic channels to influence that mechanism. That is the rule of law.

If you have some alternate proposal whereby it can be determined whether or not the Constitution is being followed, I'm happy to hear it. So far you have not even demonstrated that you understand the meaning of the word "constitutional," as you declared unconstitutional a mechanism which is literally specified in the Constitution, so I am dubious of any system which would elevate the opinion of any random person to the level that it would be constitutionally binding. We already have a system for assessing the will of the majority.


You can have your own opinion all you like. The one the government will operate by (with certain historical exceptions...) is the Supreme Court's.


Well obviously. The problem comes about when someone wishes to rule out the idea that the SC can make faulty judgments by construction (usually because they wish to keep believing that USG has not failed horribly at its design goals).


> The problem comes about when someone wishes to rule out the idea that the SC can make faulty judgments by construction

I think you're talking past each other.

Obviously the Supreme Court can get decisions wrong (not just "the context was different then" but actually wrong; e.g. Dred Scott).

But the point is that for the purposes of the government and of the law there is no higher arbiter than the Supreme Court so if they get a Constitutional interpretation "wrong" in your humble opinion then it still won't matter that you or anyone else disagrees; in the interim the government and the courts will use the new precedent.

Saying in essence that "other people can have their own opinions about the Constitutionality of a Supreme Court decision is tautologically true; how can it add to a discussion? You might as well mention that water is wet. For that reason it's easy for other people viewing that comment to believe you meant something else entirely...


The problem comes about when someone wishes to rule out the idea that the SC can make faulty judgments by construction...

That's what it fucking means to be supreme! There is literally no higher authority unless you want to start shooting people! If you don't like a Supreme Court ruling you can only petition the court to reverse itself or amend the Constitution. By definition, the Supreme Court is the highest legal authority, ergo if they make a "mistaken" ruling (according to whom?) there is no higher legal authority to express that conclusion. So yes, by construction no power exists to override the court, only to amend the Constitution. Faulty judgments are part of the system, the rule of law is the system whereby you agree to operate within this system, even when rulings are made which you personally object to.


Whoosh. You're doing the equivalent of conflating legality and morality - separate your perspective from than of USG. The point isn't that an arbitrary person's opinion of constitutionality directs the actions of USG. It's that there's an independent notion of constitutionality outside the opinions of the Supreme Council. By acknowledging this divergence, we illustrate one aspect USG's corruption (and gain insight to how it occurred) and can weigh whether it is time to reboot the failed system by external means.


You began this discussion by saying that a Supreme Court decision can be unconstitutional -- practically a contradiction in terms, and also legal statement. Now you're trying to switch subjects and say you were talking about morality the whole time? Morality is utterly irrelevant and subjective. I don't care about what you think is moral, that's why we have a Constitution in the first place: so we don't have to pick which moral code to observe!


No, I began by saying that the SC can declare something "constitutional" when it (the "something") is obviously not.

(Funnily enough, I was implying that your original judgment of constitutionality was irrelevant as to what could happen. A point which you then went on to make hard about others' judgments of constitutionality, but mostly restricted to post-SC-decision disagreement)

I said nothing about morality specifically, just that the phenomenon of conflating it with legality is an analog of what you seem to be doing: assuming that the truth of something (in this case: "constitutionality") is fully captured by how the government judges it.


That is tautologically true, something you don't seem to understand. The Constitution defines the methods by which to determine whether an act conforms to it. Whatever you think is "obvious" is a) not obvious, and b) irrelevant unless you are prepared to establish your interpretation by force. The word "constitutional" means that a thing is aligned with the Constitution, and the Constitution defines the method for making that determination as the court system. Ergo, constitutionality is determined by the supreme court. Apart from that, what you have are commonplace observations made by lay people about how they think the world should work. Strangely, you seem to think these are universally agreed-upon beliefs, apparently for no other reason than because you and people like you agree. You also think the rest of us should regard your beliefs on the Constitution at least as highly as we do the rulings of the court. Again, for no other reason than because you hold them and they are "obvious." You apparently have never heard the word "subjective."

All you seem to be saying is "everyone has an opinion as to what is constitutional" to which I can only say, Yes and they can express it at the ballot box, seek office, or strive for a relevant appointment. Apart from that, tell it to your wife because nobody else cares.

The flippant and cavalier manner with which you would declare something unconstitutional is staggering. Had you any level of meaningful understanding as to what it takes to determine the constitutionality of a thing, I think you would have a better appreciation for the nuance involved. At least you would have a more interesting position than simply reiterating that everyone has a right to an opinion.


Your thinking process has been thoroughly pwned by the idea that changing the individual cogs comprising USG suffices, such that nobody should ever judge or hope to deprecate the entity itself. So, adieu.


Stay in school.


> If you don't like a Supreme Court ruling you can only petition the court to reverse itself or amend the Constitution.

Or just ignore it. While I can't recall an example of this by the executive branch at the Supreme Court level, its certainly happened with lower federal court orders (e.g., the Lincoln administration's first set of suspensions of habeas corpus and the rulings invalidating them), and there is nothing magical about the Supreme Court that makes it any less possible for their decisions.


And the various copyright extension bills.


Are you even serious? About 99% of what the American government does is specifically prohibited in the Constitution.


I think you and I must not agree on what the word "serious" means.


That would be far too much trouble to go through. The Feds don't need to change laws, arrest or convict these people to endlessly torture their lives in retribution.


Going after these people would actually hurt Governmental Security. Forty years after the fact, this case just helps perpetuate the idea of soft rebellion successfully pushing back against the system (one of the bases of mainstream American politics). Meanwhile the system has adopted (organizational compartmentalization and physical security will prevent this attack from recurring) and level of routine surveillance has continually grown.


It's interesting how history repeats itself. This is the story of how we ended up with the FISA court. The lesson for us is that need to be careful that whatever reforms we make to fix the NSA won't be used in even worse ways in the future.


It likely will be. The bad side-effect is that they have now measured exactly what the tolerance to this is -- t\it wasn't that bad a of a reaction from the general population. HN/Reddit and other communities are too small compared to the general population. Now what can happen, is they can be more brazen in their actions and take it up a couple of more notches, as the saying goes.

For example, they know that we know, so no need to expend much effort hiding their tactics and methods. You do something they don't like? They can clearly just send an agent or make a phone call. You did something undesirable but not necessarily illegal, well they might go back 2 years and listen to how you confessed to your partner that you cheated on your IRS taxes that year. You might get a "friendly" reminder from them about that conversation and what it could do if IRS got that info.

Another level of this is people start assuming they are omniscient and omnipotent in gathering information. They become the de-facto record keepers. If there is a dispute about a fact, they can chime and say that well "on Friday, November 15, 20:30, you made a phone call and you confessed to this crime". Whether that happened or not, might not matter, what matters is that they could make it up and many will take their word for it.


I don't know, how it is in the US, but here in Germany, the "normal" media reports the same narrative, that the general public does not care.

I can only say, that a great lot of people I know and heard of, do care but often times, they do not know, what to do and what can be done.

So do not buy into this narrative. Fight against it, as (at least to me) it does not seem to be true.

But I believe, that your dystopic view might be(come) true. Sad, but true.


I'm surprised that this hasn't been referred to regularly throughout the whole current NSA revelations. Or have I just missed it.

Really looking forward to reading the book.


You can start now: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_Commission_to_Inve...

Follow the links out from there.


There was a whole popular culture movement back then. I don't see that now, sadly.


Interesting that, if done today, analysis of a few months worth of meta-data would show exactly who they were.

Edit: Also interesting that today they would be called home grown terrorists instead of anti-war activists.


By taking no credit, they ensured the story would be about the documents and not the burglars.


Counterpoint: Snowden vs Manning. It's not that simple.


Countercounterpoint: Julian Assange.


They're both examples of how not to do this sort of thing in that regard.


To be fair, the key difference is that these guys got away with it. If they hadn't, I hope they'd have the level of notoriety and support Snowden and Manning have had. But I agree that it would be better to focus on the facts and issues rather than the individuals involved.


> To be fair, the key difference is that these guys got away with it.

The other difference is that "these guys" didn't do anything else but find the evidence they needed to prove the types of spying the FBI was up to.

It's not as if they copied out all of the FBI file cabinets and only then revealed evidence of spying, along with disclosing lists of known Soviet spies under watch by the FBI.


As I read more about this, I wonder if there has yet been a powerful intel (or otherwise secret) government organization that hasn't abused its power in some major way. Without organizations that can keep secrets, you lose a lot of options (such as undercover operations, and surprise nuclear defence systems), but I wonder if you can't draw parallels to open source.

When your government is "closed source", the risks are higher as there are less checks and balances. But maybe, like many open source efforts, keeping the government entirely transparent would increase efficiency enough to make up for the types of operations that you can no longer undertake.


Organized civil disobedience was ineffective.


Am I the only one who gets an auto-play video and then an uncloseable popup that prevents me from pausing or muting it??


Yeah, the video starts automatically. I didn't get a popup window at all. I have no blocking mechanisms activated besides what's already in stock Mozilla Firefox.




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