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Worrying about Big Brother’s reach

Last weekend, we ran a story in which a reporter spoke to a family of Russian natives now living in Marietta. Some of you may have wondered about us speaking with only two folks, a mother and son, for such a story. Surely there are other native Russians and Ukrainians in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Well, there are, but it may come as some surprise to learn that some of them are still afraid.

One person we tried to contact for the story considered the matter, but then declared she was not comfortable talking about politics publicly. She is a native Russian. Despite thousands of miles of distance, despite now living in what is ostensibly the most free nation on Earth, she still seemed to be wary of going on the record with any kind of discussion that involved the Russian government. One can only guess at the basis for her fears.

When I was first told we were down to only one set of relatives as sources for this story, and that other sources were unwilling to talk, I admit I reacted a bit arrogantly. How awful it must be to call home a country that makes its citizens afraid to express themselves. Tsk, tsk. What a shame some people continue to allow their governments to practice such tyranny.

But then I remembered an incident from a few days before. I had recently completed my tax returns, using software at home. In the course of answering all the questions posed by the software (and being petrified that I would make a mistake or leave something out, and incur the wrath of the Internal Revenue Service), I was treated to what amounted to a commercial for Obamacare. In fact, this software, which, by the way, is owned by a publicly traded corporation that has no obvious ties to the federal government, included at the end of its tax preparation process an “Affordable Health Care Guide,” to give “personalized info and links to see how Obamacare works.” It included the frightening suggestion that one should “See what penalty you’ll pay if you’re not insured.”

I was shocked at seeing such a blatant intrusion by the federal government into a corporation’s product. I wondered how heavily Obama and Co. had leaned on the company in order to receive such a plug, or whether they paid for the spot.

While I was musing about the pervasiveness of Obamacare, and other aspects of the president’s policy that are seeping into our lives, a snarky, sarcastic comment came to my mind. I thought it would be funny to text a friend, who would no doubt see the irony in the situation.

Before I hit “send” however, the thought came to me that, knowing my luck, the National Security Agency would see my text. It was an eye-rolling thought; nothing to take seriously. But it was a thought that held just enough of a chilling effect that I erased the text. I, a person for whom the freedoms guaranteed in this country have been the foundation of a career, erased a harmless, humorous text because the thought crossed my mind that a government agency might see it and make note of my political satire.

I am not, by any means, implying the administration of Barack Obama compares with the reigns of Vladimir Putin and his predecessors in Russia and the Soviet Union. The teensy bit of trepidation I felt is likely nothing compared with what ran through our potential source’s mind.

But I do wonder how we got here, and where it will end. I can only hope future leaders who aim to impose their will as the rule of law because they believe they have seen evidence that neither Congress, the Supreme Court nor the American people will stop them, turn out to be wrong.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via email at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com