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This is no time to close our eyes and go to sleep

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency's need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling
A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus on Thursday, June 6, 2013, in Fort Meade, Md. The Obama administration on Thursday defended the National Security Agency's need to collect telephone records of U.S. citizens, calling such information "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats."
Associated Press

Last week, when Americans learned of a massive erosion of our freedom, also marked the 64th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's "1984."

If you haven't read it, please do so. If you read it years ago, read it again. The movie doesn't count.

But don't read it on the Internet. Instead, look for one of those quaint, old-fashioned "books on paper," so the federal security forces can't read along with you online.

On Friday, President Barack Obama stood in San Jose, Calif., to reassure a nation overwhelmed, perhaps numbed, at how quickly we've given up our liberty in the name of security.

President Big Brother from Chicago has always believed in the power of his rhetorical skills. Unfortunately, his aides forgot the speech. There was no script and no teleprompter.

"I think there's only one problem, and that is my remarks are not sitting here," Obama fumbled. "People! Uh, things, by uh, Friday, uh afternoon things get a little challenged.

"Ah, I'm gonna have a uh, I'm gonna answer a question at the end of the remarks, but I want make sure we get the remarks out. People! Oh, goodness!!" he said as an aide, scurrying forward with a printed copy of his remarks, all but tripped and fell.

"Oh? ... folks are sweating back there right now," he said.

With the speech printed for him, he began spinning against the news.

And what news? Something we've suspected for years.

The Guardian, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal told us that the federal government can now mine personal data from our phones, our credit card transactions and our Internet searches and postings.

The National Security Agency and the FBI are plugged directly into the electronic brains of the leading American Internet companies, from Google to Microsoft to Apple, the better to monitor the people who were once free. These federal agencies are now able to suck out photographs, audio, video, our email and other documents and track our movements and those of our friends.

According to an unnamed intelligence officer in The Washington Post, these once-secret federal computer powers give the government amazing reach. And that whistle-blower made a statement as devastating as the account in "1984" about Winston Smith and the rat cage.

The Post's whistle-blower said that federal police "quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type."

Think on that one for a moment: The government can see your thoughts building on your keyboard. And we thought Orwell was writing fiction, not history.

This all comes after other news, that the Internal Revenue Service was used to squash dissent and harass conservative and tea party groups; and that phone records of journalists from The Associated Press and Fox News were seized, even though President Big Brother insists that he's all about the First Amendment.

The loss of freedom has hit us so quickly that Obama felt compelled to stand up and make soothing sounds.

"When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls," he said Friday.

He neglected to add that they do track whom you call, when and for how long.

Obama admitted that Americans may be queasy about the long arm of the supersecret federal security forces, but that he had struck the right balance between privacy rights and the need to fight terrorism. He didn't mention that it was decided in secret.

"You can't have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience," he said, stressing that members of Congress and federal judges had also been aware of these secret programs. "You know, we're going to have to make some choices as a society."

Yes, we're going to have to make some choices. Us, not you. The first choice is to figure out who we were and who we are. We were once a people who prized individual liberty above all else. But we've given it up. We're tired.

We might as well admit it. What we've done, what we've given up, won't stop gnawing at us until we concede the truth of it.

We gave up freedom after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. President George W. Bush and Congress ceded it away. We were afraid and we gave it up. And President Big Brother, who campaigned against these Bush policies, has taken it to another level without much dissent from his adoring media.

We've been beaten down by a terrible economy. The Wall Street boys haul in profits. The rest of us struggle to pay the bills. And college students rush to study "Health care Management," eager to serve Obamacare for the promise of a steady paycheck.

We'll be told by pro-Obama and pro-Bush media mouthpieces not to worry, that those who shriek about the loss of freedom are irrational, perhaps even suspect.

We can listen to them, close our eyes and go to sleep.

Or we can remind ourselves who we were, and what we can be again.

I'd recommend another book, one that is prized by tea party people and the Occupy crowd, and should be treasured by all of us. It's a small booklet, subversive, perhaps even dangerous.

It was written by a now-forgotten people who wouldn't sacrifice liberty for security, and who once told the mighty king of England that they'd rather live free or die.

The authors didn't hide their work in a secret court. They wrote it out publicly, for everyone to see, starting with the words "We the people."

And they called it the Constitution of the United States.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may send him email at