Mandela Dying, Snowden Flying

Two notorious lawbreakers dominated the news this weekend. Due to his activism against the apartheid policies of the white South African government, Nelson Mandela was convicted as a communist, prosecuted for high treason, then convicted of inciting strikes, then convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the government. He was imprisoned for twenty-seven years. Upon his release, he negotiated the end of apartheid with FW de Klerk and was elected President of South Africa in 1994.

Apartheid was probably doomed anyway, but it is safe to say that Mandela played a key role in ending it sooner rather than later.

On the run from a US arrest warrant, Edward Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong – angering the US government. He flew to an international area at a Moscow airport – therefore not technically entering Russia. Though his passport has been frozen, Wikileaks arranged papers that would allow him to travel internationally. He was allowed to book a flight from Moscow to Cuba – which also pissed off the US government – but as of Monday morning, that trip may have been a feint. No one knows where he will end up, so it makes for an exciting news event.

Mandela is currently revered by any self-identified progressive, while Snowden is currently revered by the far left and some libertarians and reviled by conservatives, moderates and Obama loyalists, but in the Guardian, Valerie Plame Wilson and Joe Wilson remind us that Snowden is not the primary story:

Let’s be absolutely clear about the news that the NSA collects massive amounts of information on US citizens – from emails, to telephone calls, to videos, under the Prism program and other Fisa court orders: this story has nothing to do with Edward Snowden. As interesting as his flight to Hong Kong might be, the pole-dancing girlfriend, and interviews from undisclosed locations, his fate is just a sideshow to the essential issues of national security versus constitutional guarantees of privacy, which his disclosures have surfaced in sharp relief.

The Wilsons are correct. Even if he is caught and imprisoned for 27 years, Snowden will probably still only be a whistleblower that happened to have access to data that the government didn’t want us to know about. He could surprise us and evolve into a heroic statesman, but that seems unlikely.

To actually challenge the surveillance state, people that should know better have to stop excusing the government for spying on us, and hold whichever administration is in power to account for abuses.

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