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.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 18th 2020
EXTRACT: "Beyond the usual economic and policy risks that most financial analysts worry about, a number of potentially seismic white swans are visible on the horizon this year. Any of them could trigger severe economic, financial, political, and geopolitical disturbances unlike anything since the 2008 crisis."
Feb 18th 2020
Extract: "In late 2019, Zogby Research Services (ZRS) once again had the opportunity to poll public opinion across the Middle East and North Africa about many of these issues that are of such critical concern to the region and its peoples..............One of the more intriguing results in our 2019 survey were the changes in Arab views toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most Arabs still blame the US and Israel for the absence of peace and have little confidence that the conflict can be resolved in the near future. Maybe as a result of this despair, this issue now ranks low as an Arab priority. Also noteworthy is the fact that majorities in most Arab countries now say that normalization with Israel, which they acknowledge is already happening, may be a good thing. This development shouldn’t be overstated, however, since there is still no love for Israel. It appears, from our survey, to be born of frustration, weariness with Palestinians being victims of war, and the possibility that normalization might bring some economic benefits and could give Arabs leverage to press Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians."
Feb 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "Global dissatisfaction with democracy has increased over the past 25 years, according to our recent report. Drawing upon the HUMAN Surveys project, the report covered 154 countries, with 77 countries covered continuously for the period from 1995 to 2020. These samples were possible thanks to the combination of data from over 25 sources, 3,500 national surveys, and 4 million respondents. Not surprisingly, the gloomy headline finding – rising democratic dissatisfaction – attracted the most attention. Less widely discussed, however, is the “good news” – that a small sample of countries has bucked the trend, and have record high levels of satisfaction with their democracies."
Feb 14th 2020
EXTRACT: "This is how dictatorships begin. As the US prepares for its next presidential election in November, it is every citizen’s responsibility rationally to examine Trump’s dictatorial impulses, which reelection would only reinforce. It is not safe to assume that he won’t go too far, or that he is too much of a “mediocrity” – as Leon Trotsky called Stalin (an assessment with which many Bolsheviks agreed) – to transform his country......Vladimir Lenin, himself a ruthless Bolshevik, wrote in 1922 that, “Stalin concentrated in his hands enormous power, which he won’t be able to use responsibly,” owing to traits like rudeness, intolerance, and capriciousness. Trump has all of them in spades. The more power he concentrates in his own hands, the dimmer the long-term outlook for American democracy becomes. His reelection could mean lights out."
Feb 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "Does this mean that the dream of European unity is over? Does the exodus of a member state obliterate the vision of Victor Hugo and Václav Havel? Does Europe now fit the description of what the great American president Abraham Lincoln called a house divided against itself? Not necessarily. History is more imaginative than we are. The EU still has the option of keeping Britain close in heart and mind. We can still benefit from our absent partner, by resurrecting the partnership through our actions."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "There, no formal change from a republican system to an autocratic system ever occurred. Rather, there was an erosion of the republican institutions, a steady creep over decades of authoritarian decision-making, and the consolidation of power within one individual – all with the name “Republic” preserved.........Will the GOP-led Senate’s endorsement of this defense clear a path for more of the manifestations – and consequences – of authoritarianism? The case of the Roman Republic’s rapid slippage into an autocratic regime masquerading as a republic shows how easily that transformation can occur."
Feb 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "So all that is why Cramer is talking about the death knell of petroleum stocks. We probably agree on almost nothing else, but when people are right, you have to give them credit. He is right."
Feb 3rd 2020
EXTRACT: "........as the citizens of the remaining 27 states have observed the destabilising impact that the referendum decision has had on British politics, they have been inoculated against the desire to secede from the EU. Outside the UK, national-populist parties have moderated their anti-EU rhetoric and nowadays profess to want to change the EU from within instead of destroying it."
Feb 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Senators will soon decide whether to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump without hearing any witnesses. In making this decision, I believe they should consider words spoken at the Constitutional Convention, when the Founders decided that an impeachment process was needed to provide a “regular examination,” to quote Benjamin Franklin. A critical debate took place on July 20, 1787, which resulted in adding the impeachment clause to the U.S. Constitution. Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention, said that when the president falls under suspicion, a “regular and peaceable inquiry” is needed."
Feb 1st 2020
EXTRACT: "Britain will be celebrating its glorious independence from the complications of international cooperation at a time when the intellectual, political, and economic hostility between China’s communist leadership and liberal democracies is becoming ever clearer. If liberal democracy is to survive, it must stand up for itself. And we should be under no illusion: open societies under the rule of law, from the Americas to Europe, Africa, and Asia, are in China’s hostile sights. The West should not aim to encircle or pen in China. But liberal democracies cannot allow it to distort international norms in its own favor."
Jan 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Switzerland and Denmark have gone furthest into negative territory, both offering unprecedentedly low rates of -0.75%. The Swiss National Bank, which has kept its rate at this level since 2015, signalled recently that it intends to stick with this experiment and is not ruling out going even more negative. It has said that negative rates were boosting the economy and that the country’s fundamentals were not being significantly affected."
Jan 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "Electricity will dominate the future global energy system. Currently, it accounts for only 20% of final energy demand,......Without assuming any fundamental technological breakthroughs, we could certainly build by 2050 a global economy in which electricity met 65-70% of final energy demand,....."
Jan 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "With the world economy operating dangerously close to stall speed, the confluence of ever-present shocks and a sharply diminished trade cushion raises serious questions about financial markets’ increasingly optimistic view of global economic prospects."
Jan 26th 2020
EXTRACT: "Gibson’s diagnosis is supported by international attitude surveys. One found that most Americans rarely think about the future and only a few think about the distant future. When they are forced to think about it, they don’t like what they see. Another poll by the Pew Research Centre found that 44% of Americans were pessimistic about what lies ahead. But pessimism about the future isn’t just limited to the US. One international poll of over 400,000 people from 26 countries found that people in developed countries tended to think that the lives of today’s children will be worse than their own. And a 2015 international survey by YouGov found that people in developed countries were particularly pessimistic. For instance, only 4% of people in Britain thought things were improving. This contrasted with 41% of Chinese people who thought things were getting better."
Jan 24th 2020
EXTRACT: "........while over 80% of the ECB scheme buys government and other public sector bonds, a huge chunk still goes into corporate bonds and other assets. At the time of writing, the ECB holds €263 billion worth of corporate bonds – a very significant amount in relation to individual firms and the sectors in question. According to the ECB, 29% of these bonds were issued by French firms, 25% by German firms and 11% each by Spanish and Italian firms. As at September 2017, the sectors they came from included utilities (16%), infrastructure (12%), automotive (10%) and energy (7%)."
Jan 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "Thanks to cutting-edge digital technology, cars are increasingly like “smartphones on wheels”, so manufacturers need to have access to the latest patented 4G and 5G technologies essential to navigation and communications. But often the companies that hold the patents are reluctant to license them because manufacturers will not accept the high fees involved, which leads to patent disputes and licensing rows."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Recent polling from Pew Research demonstrates how the public’s attitudes toward the US and President Trump have witnessed sharp declines in many nations across the world. In Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East favorable attitudes toward the US went from lows during the years of George W. Bush’s presidency to highs in the early Obama years to lows, once again, in the Trump era. And in our Zogby Research Services (ZRS) polling we found, with a few exceptions, much the same trajectory across the Middle East."
Jan 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "In the absence of a declaration of war against Iran, the killing of a foreign official – by a drone strike on Iraqi territory – was possibly illegal. But such niceties do not perturb Trump. The evidence is that Trump’s decision was taken without consideration of the possible consequences. The national security system established under Dwight D. Eisenhower, designed to prevent such reckless measures, is broken to non-existent, with ever-greater power placed in the hands of the president. If that president is unstable, the entire world has a very serious problem."
Jan 9th 2020
EXTRACT: "It is possible that Trump’s reverential base won’t be sufficient to keep him in the White House past 2020. But such ardent faith is hard to oppose with rational plans to fix this or that problem. That is why it is so unsettling to hear people at the top of the US government speak about politics in terms that rightly belong in church. They are challenging the founding principles of the American Republic, and they might actually win as a result."