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The real autumn fright

Connor Roth | Sunday, November 3, 2013

Last Halloween, one of my economics professors made some jokingly-profound comments on what he believed was truly the scariest thing to dress up as on the 31st: a human embodiment of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
These two federal mortgage giants received bailouts – costing taxpayers an estimated $188 billion – and up until recent months, have run consistent deficits. However, this year, Fannie and Freddie have not been the prominent source of fear for the American people. While ghouls and goblins may ice the hearts of many youngsters on Halloween, the real tremors felt by the public stem from the utter state of shambles one may clearly observe in Washington.
Apart from the recent 16-day government shutdown, the primary concerns of late revolve around the NSA scandals and the Affordable Healthcare Act’s implementation. Just when I thought I could write about a new topic – such as our interventionist foreign policy or the militarization of the police force – newspapers revealed the NSA has had German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone wiretapped since as far back as 2002. There has been uproar in Germany over these revelations of U.S. spying on their soil; having been in Munich when this intel was released, all I could tell my hostel-friends in my limited German was, “Das ist nicht gut. Es tut mir leid.”
Another interesting twist in the Germany spying debacle is senator Dianne Feinstein’s (CA-D) newly found disapproval of the NSA wiretapping; last Monday, she came out stating she was “totally opposed” to the U.S. spying on its allies and “demanded” reform to our surveillance programs. The irony of her aversion to international spying is illustrated by Feinstein’s October 13th Wall Street Journal op/ed, entitled “The NSA’s Watchfulness Protects America.” In this article, the California senator took the strong opinion that NSA surveillance and mass data collection protects Americans from terrorist attacks – and thus although it violates our privacy, should still operate. One may wonder why it took international surveillance to inspire this senator to come out against the NSA’s current modus operandi while she was completely in support of such a program when it only affected her own countrymen.  
Perhaps the most notable aspect in respect to the international trust-breaker is President Obama’s stance on the issue. Understanding the American relationship with Germany is vital not only for trade, but also for peace talks, the President rushed out to criticize the NSA for its actions. However, President Obama was even more quick to mention he was not informed about the surveillance programs abroad.
This admission is the source of current American concern: Obama either is telling the truth and did not know about the U.S. spying on its allies – or he is simply lying to save face. Regardless of which is truly the case, the public is left in a lose-lose situation. If Obama really did not know, then he comes off as a weak, “left in the dark” president. Is it not his job to know what is going on in his administration? On October 29th, even MSNBC ran a video criticizing President Obama’s “implausible deniability,” providing clips of various issues such as the Fast and Furious Mexican weapons scandal, Healthcare.gov’s glitches and crash detected during a beta test, the IRS targeting of conservative political groups, and the Department of Justice’s subpoenas for the Associated Press’ phone records, among others. The common denominator amongst his response to each negative outcome: “I didn’t know about it; I heard about the issue from the newspapers like you.” If he really did not know about any of these problems, are we supposed to applaud the president for his ignorance?
Instead of Michael Myers or that masked guy from “Scream” – who are assuredly fictional movie characters (I hope…) – Americans are faced with the reality our president is either lying to the faces of those who put him in office on the platform of peace, hope, change and transparency, or he is simply kept out of the loop by unelected bureaucrats like those at the NSA. Either way, that is certainly one spooky political truth that encapsulates a lot of tricks with very few noticeable treats. It appears Charlie Brown’s desperate words from the classic Halloween television special came true for the American people this fall: instead of sweet government deals and handouts, we all seemingly just got a rock. Perhaps there is a wider truth to this narrative.

Connor Roth is a junior studying
economics and constitutional studies. He lives in Duncan Hall, hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently participating in the London abroad program through Notre Dame. He can be contacted at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.