Is it us or is it them?

ImageThe US-German friendship is stable, right? Or is it? How much is a friend allowed to know and how much of this knowledge is a friend allowed to gain without the other person’s knowledge? Apparently, friendship does not equal friendship and some people have more rights than others. What I am referring to here is obviously the NSA scandal. So much has been said about it already, that I actually did not want to write about it anymore. However, the recent development with regards to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel do make me really angry. I am not angry about the NSA spying on Mrs. Merkel in particular. I do not think it is correct to spy out your own citizens without a good reason, let alone people in other countries. I am angry, because Mrs. Merkel did not say much when the NSA scandal broke several month ago, hence showing that she essentially was in accord with the NSA and saw no fault with the action, but she is bitterly complaining now. But is there a difference in the NSA spying on her or spying on random citizens? Politically there is a difference, and I am well aware of that. Continue reading “Is it us or is it them?”

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How much do we value our freedom?

Benjamin_Franklin (1)For some reason that I am not even aware of anymore, I believed that countries who spy on their citizens are not democratic ones but only those which are governed by a dictator who suffers from an understandable fear of the people he is actually governing. Apparently I was obviously very wrong about that. Edward Snowden, the US ex-NSA (National Security Agency) technician, turned whistleblower on the government, has showed to all of us, that for the US, spying, and not only on its citizens but also on the citizens in many other countries, seems to be quite a normal procedure. (Even though the NSA now states that it mainly spies on people in other countries. Somehow, for me living in Germany, that does not make it on bid better.) Snowden revealed that the NSA has a system called Prism that is designed to track phone and internet connections, and is able to reveal every information about its use and the attached user. It is supposed to work with big companies like Google and Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.” Says Edward Snowden in an interview with the Guardian that was conducted Monday the 10th of June in Hong Kong. Since then Snowden has checked out of the hotel and is believed to be hiding in Hong Kong.
James Clapper, Chief of the NSA has said that the system was not a snooping device to spy on people outside the US but an internal system of the government that is only used to counter terrorism. Unfortunately, even this leaves a lot of room for interpretation and can be widely used if the NSA deems it appropriate. So, the public does not really know how Prism functions, nor what it is actually targeting. Does a red flag on some system come up when I write the word “bomb” three times? Does a red flag come up as soon as I publish this blog because I voice criticism towards the NSA and the US government? Do I have to be afraid now? Even if I would be, and let me say, I am not, I would write and publish my criticism. It is unbelievable how our personal freedom and our liberties are treated since 9/11. As well as I can understand the fear, the way we are behaving, the terrorists have already won, because they have struck perpetual terror in our minds. And they use our fear very cleverly, because now someone like Edward Snowden cannot voice his opinions anymore without having to fear, not some terrorists, but his fellow countrymen who want to prosecute him for saying the truth and for explaining to the public how it is treated by those who claim that they have a claim and a right to protect us. And even though I can imagine that Snowden was probably sworn to secrecy when he was accepted as a NSA employee, it must be possible for each and every individual to follow their conscience and to stand up and speak out. I cannot give you a good answer as to where to draw the line between liberty and security. But I can quote Benjamin Franklin “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” And to end with a thought of my own, I am deeply unhappy that this wisdom is still not adhered to. How many more liberties and freedoms do we have to lose to understand that this is not worth all the security in the world?

Eugenics in America

Elaine Riddick is just one of 60,000 Americans who fell foul of a shocking policy of eugenics operative in the United States for the majority of the last century. On June 22 Ms. Riddick will tell, to a task force specially assembled for victims such as her, the story of how in 1968 she was sterilised at the hands of US government at the age of 14.

Ms. Riddick was raped and impregnated when she was 13 years-old by a neighbour in her hometown of Winfall, North Carolina. She was singled out by a social worker to be “feeble-minded”, and after giving birth through Caesarian section, with putative “consent” from her fearful and illiterate grandmother, who signed with an ‘X’ the necessary forms, was subjected to tubal ligation, permanently preventing her from producing any future children. These actions were carried out under a eugenicist movement in the US, beginning in 1907, ending in 1979, and sanctioned by laws in 32 states. (Full report on BBC News website).

The policy of sterilisation reportedly targeted women deemed to be sexual deviants, homosexual men, people on welfare, people who were mentally ill or suffered from epilepsy, criminals, and delinquents. The idea placed emphasis on the attempt to preclude the necessity of supporting those who most likely would be able to support neither themselves nor the rest of society by removing altogether the means for their creation. Speaking to the BBC, Professor Paul Lombardo of Georgia State University, editor of a book on the history of eugenics in America, said:

We have in this country have always been extremely sensitive to notions of public stories of inappropriate sexuality

We exercise that most dramatically when it comes to times in which we think we’re spending individual tax money to support people who violate those social norms. It’s our puritanical background, running up against our sense of individualism.

Continue reading “Eugenics in America”

Intensive interrogation doesn’t lead to information

390px-Theresiana-LeiterThe use of harsh interrogative techniques by the U.S. government has been a hotly debated topic in the global media in recent months. The debate is especially intense with respect to the moral significance of such techniques. As significant is the controversy about the veracity of the information acquired through the application of these techniques.

These two issues are often considered to be related. The weight of our moral considerations is likely to be inversely related to the utility of the practice (though followers of Kant would reject this claim). In other words, if we find that reliable and crucial information can only be obtained by inflicting significant harm to a single purportedly depraved individual, our moral responsibility towards that individual seems diminished. If, on the other hand, milder techniques are just as effective, our reasons for employing harsh interrogation seem morally suspect.

New research reported on the BBC website indicates that the harsh interrogative techniques in question are not only ineffective at eliciting reliable and crucial information, but also that they have a negative long-term effect on the possibility of obtaining that information. The research shows that, under conditions of extremely high stress, detainees Continue reading “Intensive interrogation doesn’t lead to information”

A “torture” debate

Gitmo_AerialAs a matter of editorial policy, several major media outlets, including The New York Times and NPR, do not use the word “torture” to describe treatment of prisoners in US custody.  This policy has drawn criticism from opponents of US interrogation methods. Continue reading “A “torture” debate”