May 30, 2014

As I Consider the Possibility of Eviction...

Many thanks to the nine people who have donated in response to the preceding post. As things stand now, I won't be able to pay the June rent. I guess there's a real possibility I'll be dealing with a three-day notice and eviction proceedings before long.

I understand that most blog readers are solely interested in posts published nownownow, and that anything published even a week or two ago is considered old news. I might be slightly sympathetic to that view if what most bloggers (and twitterers) write was actually new, but of course 99.99% of what's "new" is recycled, erroneous, frequently stupid crap that was recycled, erroneous, usually stupid crap before any of us appeared on this planet. Ah, well. I lost that battle long ago.

Nonetheless, and since I'm still getting my writing legs back after this health-induced hiatus, I was thinking about the hundreds and hundreds of posts lurking in my archives. I also understand that most current readers never venture into the archives. But I thought I'd take this opportunity to direct you to some articles you might find of interest, despite the lamentable fact that they predate Gutenberg. I think these particular entries have stood the "test of time" quite well, if I were to be grandiose about it.

The first post I'll mention is "Applauding Maestro Fleisher -- With Both Hands." It's a particular favorite of mine, and I've been meaning to point it out for a while. The essay concerns an interesting intersection of art and politics; it also provided me a chance to write about an unusually fascinating chapter from an Oliver Sacks book. Because classical music and the piano are great passions of mine (I briefly studied full-time to be a concert pianist when I was a teenager), it was a joy to write that piece. I'm sure almost no one even remembers it.

The next article is "When Awareness Is a Crime, and Other Lessons from Morton West." I discuss a group of courageous and deeply admirable high school students who peacefully protested the (then) ongoing Iraq occupation. The reward for their awareness -- and their willingness to do something about it -- was to be threatened with expulsion. The episode was outrageous and sickening, but it provided an illuminating example of the multiple lessons being delivered to the students, and to all the rest of us, every day.

"'Regrettable Misjudgments': The Shocking Immorality of Our Constricted Thought" is an overview of the sickening superficiality of our "national discourse," with an emphasis on foreign policy. The essay also reviews the history and development of the false and exceedingly dangerous notion of American Exceptionalism.

I had a lot of fun with the next one: "Unreasoning Hysteria as the Default Position: Joan Crawford Does Foreign Policy." The title accurately conveys the subject matter, and I remain inordinately fond of the little speech I devised for Ms. Crawford as she discourses on the complexities of human entanglement.

"Best. Government. Ever." is a sardonic take on the lunacy and idiocy of the FISA bill passed in the summer of 2007. I found it grimly amusing to read it now, after the past year of the "Great Debate" about government surveillance. For those who were paying attention, all of the issues about which every nincompoop has fervently brayed and bleated in recent months were entirely clear at least seven years ago (when I wrote this post), and actually long before that.

Finally, "Unwelcome History -- Religion, the Progressives, Empire, and the Drug War" offers a review of some history which is unknown to most people (including most people who write about contemporary politics). Among other issues, the article discusses the centrality of an "aggressive, evangelical form of pietism" to the Progressive moment of the early twentieth century, and to Woodrow Wilson's presidency and the drive to involve the United States in World War I. That pietism had other grievous results as well, including the Prohibition movement. I include a description of the astounding and startling results brought about by the combination of the ascendant authoritarian state, peitism and prohibition, and the appetite for vicious war propaganda, including one prohibitionist's impassioned declaration: "We have German enemies," he warned, "in this country too. And the worst of all our German enemies, the most treacherous, the most menacing are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller."

I note two further points about the articles described above. Not one of them appears in the list of Major Essays on the home page of my blog. In fact, with the exception of the Leon Fleisher essay (which, as I say, I'd intended to mention for a while), I found all of these articles essentially at random -- just following links around, until I came across a piece that made me think, "Yes, that might be a good one to mention." But I could have chosen many others; there are many hundreds more from which I could have made my selection.

Oh, well. Old news, right? Who gives a damn.

So I'll return to planning for eviction, and making sure my cats have homes.

May 28, 2014

With Apologies

Once again, I'm very sorry that I've been silent here for so long. The health woes have continued and accumulated. The last month in particular has been very scary on that front on several occasions. It was all made far worse by the blisteringly hot weather which visited us in Southern California for two weeks. (At least, they weren't consecutive weeks, which I suppose was a small mercy.) A couple of weeks ago, it was in the high nineties for four or five days and even reached 101 one afternoon. The cats and I were rendered utterly immobile.

I've been trying to cobble together a few posts, but I'm finding it very slow going at the moment. In addition to the delays resulting from my health problems, I will acknowledge that I find it difficult to write these pieces because, to the extent they deal with the latest circus surrounding the colossal fraud represented by Lord Greenwald, I am almost incapacitated by my feelings of nausea and immense rage. I don't want to steal too much of my own thunder (I will offer a fairly lengthy argument to make the following case), but c'mon, folks. Lord Greenwald's own PR machine presents him as a serious challenge to the brutal, intrusive War-Surveillance State. But any serious analysis focused on the essential structures of the State and its methods of operation makes indisputably clear that the truth is precisely the opposite.

With regard to the strategies Lord Greenwald has adopted for this spectacle, and given his notable alliance with Omidyar, Greenwald is not opposed to the State in any fundamental way. No. In connection with every issue of consequence, Greenwald is the State. Omidyar is the State. (In the same manner, and as I shall explain, Amazon is the State. PayPal is the State. Google is the State. And so on.) That this is not widely recognized, and that it is not viewed as uncontroversial in the same way two plus two are four is uncontroversial -- and still worse, that many people, including most liberals and self-styled radicals, credit the PR and believe Greenwald's astoundingly outrageous claims to be true -- is eloquent testimony to the shattering stupidity of the commentary class. I cannot think of a more powerful, all-encompassing example of shockingly self-cultivated ignorance and perversely dedicated dumbness in my 66 fucking years on this planet. (Hey, I had a birthday while I thought I might be dying! Yeah, happy fucking birthday to me.)

So I'm working on all that. In the meantime, I have to pay the June rent in several days, as well as a few other first of the month bills (including one for internet service). I only have about half of what I need. So I am truly sorry that I must ask for donations when the writing has been non-existent, but I have no choice; perhaps you can consider a donation to be offered for services rendered and services to come. I am enormously grateful for any support you might be able to offer. I would like to continue the work here for a while longer despite this forced hiatus, which I hope is now coming to an end.

Many thanks as always.

P.S. For those who may have missed earlier articles on these subjects, a listing of my articles has been put together by an altogether magnificent human being: here it is. And here is the listing for Tarzie's articles, and see Tarzie's blog for articles published in the last month or so. You might also consult two recent pieces by Chris Floyd, here and here.

April 29, 2014

Still Hanging In

Just a brief word, to apologize for my absence from this space. It's been a ghastly month or so, one health scare after another. Also, a health scare involving one of the beloved felines. Cyrano seems to be fine now -- but he is nearing 16, so... Anyway, he's pretty much his normal, magnificent self again, for which I am tremendously grateful.

I'm slowing beginning to reassemble myself, but it may not be until the weekend or the beginning of next week that I manage to get some writing done. We've just begun a freakishly early heat wave -- and it's going to be in the nineties for the rest of the week. Oh, joy. Regular readers will know that heat like that has a pretty terrible effect on my health.

But we shall muddle through. All my immense gratitude to those of you who have been so kind; your thoughtfulness and support mean a great deal to me.

And the cats and I shall return! (They don't like the heat either. I hear Cyrano muttering, "It's April, for God's sake. What the hell??" He is not pleased.)

April 04, 2014

Call Me "Irresponsible" -- Please

The lamentable circumstances surrounding the ongoing sterilization and neutering of the Snowden documents compel me to return to some fundamental principles of singular importance. One notion has attained what is now uncontroversial popularity even among those who severely criticize the manner in which Lord Greenwald & Friends have chosen to dole out what might have been significantly more disruptive disclosures had they been handled in a very different way.

In a thorough, detailed and richly-deserved trouncing of Lord Greenwald's incoherent, narcissistic, grandiose posturings (which never respond to actual criticisms in a manner understandable to a functioning human being, but are solely designed to browbeat and bully his critics into silence and submission), and a post which deserves your attention (as do many of the comments), Chris Floyd writes:
I feel that, on balance, the method of dissemination [utilized by Lord Greenwald & Friends] has not been as effective as other approaches might have been. (I have never advocated a "total dump" of the data, by the way; in fact, I don't know anyone who has.)
Other Greenwald critics have offered the same observation. They're wrong: I emphatically called for a TOTAL DUMP of ALL the Snowden documents. I went much farther: I imagined a dozen, or a hundred, Snowdens appearing, each laden with a huge trove of documents -- ALL of which are DUMPED on the internet. With this opportunity for additional explanation, I repeat that call. I reiterate and amplify my argument not primarily in connection with the Snowden documents -- that ship departed on its ill-fated voyage long ago, and will eventually find its resting place in the unreachable depths of the silent ocean -- but with a hopeful eye cast in the direction of future whistleblowers.

"Oh, Arthur! How dreadful you are! How criminally reckless! Don't you care at all about innocent lives that might be endangered? Has every spark of decency in your soul been extinguished? How can you be so irresponsible?"

But you see, I reject every standard and every assumption that leads to negative judgments of this kind. I am painfully aware that almost everyone disagrees with me. I don't give a damn. A brief response to those who condemn me would consist simply of an ostensive proof: "Look! The world we have is the world that conforms to your standards and follows your rules. It is a world of brutality, violence, exploitation, cruelty and death. So how's that working out for you?"

I made my call for a total dump in the first article I wrote about the Snowden affair, on June 11, 2013. In rereading that post today, and although I recognize it is unforgivably bad form to say so, I was startled at how accurately I captured a large part of the central problem, and how prescient my words turned out to be. Indulge me for a moment, and consider the opening of that first essay on this subject, keeping in mind what has happened in what is now almost a year since I wrote it:
An immense and unexpected sadness now suffuses the last part of my life. I did not anticipate, when we are ruled by a Death State which grows more brazenly callous in its murderous practices by the day, that those who challenge authority and seek to push back against the ascendance of brutality and oppression would willingly adopt critical aspects of the monsters' manner of destroying us. Whatever radicals and revolutionaries may be found among us, they are, with extraordinarily rare exceptions, always intent on minding their p's and q's, and never, ever soiling their cuffs with even a smidgen of dirt or dust. Even when we speak of peaceful revolution founded in civil disobedience, if you think that an unfailingly polite, neat, and manicured revolution is a contradiction in terms, you're correct. A well-mannered revolution is one doomed to fail. In the current circumstances, polite, rules-abiding challenges to authority have been rendered irrelevant and utterly without meaning.

If you wish to challenge authority in any serious manner, you must be prepared to provoke an unholy, chaotic, extremely messy scene, one punctuated with howls of outrage by those in power, where everyone is mortified, humiliated and riven with panic -- including you. Anything short of that is merely a very small speed bump on power's journey to ever-increasing destruction and death.
The manner of disclosure adopted by Lord Greenwald & Friends, a model of a polite, rules-abiding challenge to authority, has stopped exactly nothing. To the contrary, the primary effect of the disclosures has been to normalize increasingly pervasive, all-encompassing surveillance, and even to make it "legal." The title of my first article was, "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic" -- qualities which Greenwald & Friends obviously detest. That's only to be expected: it's impossible to become celebrated, powerful and wealthy if your goal is the fundamental disruption -- and ultimately, the dissolution -- of the very system that bestows fame, power and money.

In the earlier article, I explained why I call the United States a "Death State": "More and more, oppression and brutalization have become the bywords of domestic policy as well [as foreign policy]. Today, the United States as a political entity is a corporatist-authoritarian-militarist monstrosity: its major products are suffering, torture, barbarism and death on a huge scale." It is a measure of how far we've gone through the looking glass that "dissenters" appear to believe sincerely that they can challenge a Death State by adopting its methods. But when you adopt its methods -- as, for example, by internalizing its standards for disclosure and non-disclosure -- you voluntarily render your dissent "irrelevant and utterly without meaning" insofar as fundamental change is concerned. But the dissenters' acquiescence in this charade offers an additional, invaluable asset to the State: they offer the appearance of serious dissent, while ensuring that the challenge is ultimately inconsequential. In this way, people continue to delude themselves that "reform" is all that is needed, and that the system itself can be saved. This is precisely the pattern followed by Lord Greenwald & Friends.

I do not think that the monstrous Death State can be "saved" in any respect at all. It is a system that is corrupt and evil at its foundation, and in every one of its branches. My dearest hope is that circumstances force its dissolution and/or fundamental reconfiguration over an extended period of time, which might serve to minimize the pain and suffering involved (which would still be enormous, but certainly not greater than the suffering and death which is sure to come if the Death State continues on its current path). It is true that there are isolated, specific issues where injustice and deprivation can and should be ameliorated, if possible. Marriage equality is one such example -- but opening up the military to gays, lesbians and transgendered persons is most certainly not. Marriage equality bestows economic and other advantages on all the population equally. It is beyond indecent to insist that everyone should be entitled to join the Death State's military arm, and thus to become first-hand murderers themselves. Never has a push for "equality" been so ill-conceived, when there is no longer any legitimate reason for anyone to join the military at all.

And the manner of disclosure chosen by Greenwald & Friends is most decidedly not lessening the crimes of the Surveillance State. As noted above (and detailed in several of my articles, such as this one), the final effect of the Snowden leak will only be the normalization and legalization of surveillance on a vast scale.

Let us briefly consider some of the major objections raised to the apparently horrifying prospect of a "total dump." We've heard that disclosure of certain documents would empower other governments to engage in surveillance in ways that the U.S. government does. This objection rests on assumptions, and one notable omission, that seriously undermine it. I assume an adult realizes that every government engages in spying and surveillance to some extent; the major and most powerful governments engage in very broad spying and surveillance. How believable is it that the U.S. government utilizes methods of surveillance that are totally unknown to other States? Did Lord Greenwald do a survey of other governments, asking them if they know about Project Nostradamus (described sufficiently so they know what he's talking about in general terms, but shorn of specifics that would allow them to duplicate it)? That seems unlikely. So how does Greenwald or anyone else know what other States are already aware of, and what would be genuine news to them? Even if we assume that certain surveillance methods will take many people by surprise, the disclosure of those methods will enable those who would resist to develop far more effective means of combatting them and rendering them ineffective. For some reason, that possibility never seems to make it into the equation. So Lord Greenwald & Co. declare this area a no-go. The State is delighted. (I completely discount the outraged statements from heads of state and similarly placed individuals in response to the "revelation" that they themselves have been spied on. When such spying is disclosed in a major news story, of course Merkel will fume and stamp her feet; the charades of politics demand no less. Does anyone -- anyone over the age of ten, that is -- seriously believe that this came as news to her? I'm a nobody, and I assume the government knows everything about me if it wants to. If Merkel and every other foreign political leader hasn't made the same assumption, they're idiots.)

We've also heard that a total dump would reveal the names of individuals who have been surveilled who are completely innocent of wrongdoing, and that such disclosure might reveal details of their lives that they legitimately wish to keep private. But such individuals, or at least some of them, might very much want to know that they've been spied upon, and they might be perfectly willing to accept any temporary inconvenience or even serious embarrassment. Equally important is the point that, if these all-knowing, all-seeing journalists can appreciate how outrageous and unjust it is that innocent people are spied on, then so can the general public. It seems much more likely to me that there would be an outpouring of public sympathy and understanding for those innocent people who have had their lives invaded by the State. Or is it the case that only the very special journalists are able to appreciate issues of this kind? The very special journalists certainly seem to believe that themselves. That's why they're so special.

Or we hear that a total dump would endanger "innocent" people of a different kind: those individuals who work for the Death State, including those engaged in covert operations, including spies themselves. In that first essay a year ago, I parsed some statements from Snowden and Greenwald, trying to figure out who specifically they believed would be harmed by certain disclosures. I pointed out that it certainly sounded as if they were talking about U.S. spies, among others. Later statements confirmed that this was indeed what they meant. And recall that Snowden recently said: "I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I termed this "highly objectionable." One reader (of severely impaired mental acuity) thought that I found Snowden's declaration, "I love my country," to be the problem. While I do find such statements offensive (and "objectionable"), I regard them as empty political bloviating; it's a revealing, and enormously depressing, indication of the trajectory of the Snowden Follies that Snowden and Greenwald sound more and more like politicians with each day that passes. But my objection was to the second part: "I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue." I thought of highlighting that part of the sentence in my original post, but decided against it. I thought readers could figure out which part was the more significant. I always underestimate the stupidity of certain readers.

We are talking about those individuals who have chosen to work for the Death State in some of its most deadly and illegitimate branches: in covert operations and in spying. If you believe that "spying serves a vital purpose," you will believe that spies are "innocent," and perhaps even noble. And Snowden "loves" the Death State, for he does not see it as a Death State. I would never expect such a person, or his carefully selected journalists, to mount a serious challenge to the Death State, for they cannot even take the accurate measure of the enemy with which they contend. They do not even see it as an enemy in the way I do, and in the way the facts compel one to see it. (I will address in a separate essay what a journalist should have done in my view, when offered the opportunity to receive the Snowden documents. It is a subject which requires a detailed discussion. For our purposes here, I need only note that to accept the documents -- and to accede to the conditions that Snowden apparently imposed -- requires that the journalist(s) in question be completely comfortable with the exercise of power and, in this particular case, a great degree of power.)

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Just as I view the State as monstrous and illegitimate, so too I view any and all spying and surveillance activities as entirely illegitimate and almost completely without merit of any kind. I've been over this ground many times. For the detailed argument as to why "intelligence" generally is an elaborate (and very profitable) fraud, you can start here and here. The links provide much more background. Always remember that "intelligence" is almost always wrong. I said that spying and surveillance are "almost completely without merit of any kind" only because there are very rare instances where the "intelligence" stumbles upon a small piece of information that is correct. And as rare as it is, even correct information will be disregarded when it runs counter to a policy that the government has already embraced.

You can go through every other objection to disclosure that has been offered and make counterarguments of the kind indicated above with regard to these particular claims. None of the objections is credible or convincing; in every case, a case for disclosure can be made that is at least as compelling, and usually it is far more compelling. Most importantly, since I reject the entire elaborate edifice of the State and surveillance in general, I reject at its root the notion that the State has secrets worthy of protection. The State has no secrets whatsoever that deserve protection from disclosure. None.

So I am brought back to what I wrote at the conclusion of that article from almost a year ago:
The entire edifice of "secrecy," especially with regard to national security, is a vicious lie from start to finish. Put it all out there. If full disclosure endangers those who work for the Death State, the problem -- and the responsibility -- is with those who choose to directly advance the Death State's goals. It is decidedly not with the leaker, or with the journalists.

...

I want mess. I want chaos. I want to see the ruling class in unrelenting, hysterical panic. My fantasy is that a dozen, or a hundred, Edward Snowdens appear, each laden with huge piles of documents. And all those documents are dumped on the internet -- but in a fully mindful and discriminating manner, and with a specific purpose in mind. The Death State's ruling class is intent on destruction, brutality, oppression and murder and, as they tell us repeatedly, their work is far from done. The purpose of unmasking all the secrets that the ruling class is so desperate to keep, of shoveling all of it directly into the blazing, unforgiving sunlight in a fully unfiltered way, is to stop them. ...

Stop them. Your life -- and the lives of many others -- depend on it.
This is emphatically not the view of Lord Greenwald & Friends. They are "serious," "respectable," and "responsible." I am none of those things, and I thank God for it every day.

*****

ADDENDUM: One of the best passages answering the charge of "irresponsibility" in a political context remains the following from Hannah Arendt. I have offered it several times before; I discuss this passage (and another one, as well) at length in "Against Voting." Arendt's essay is titled, "Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship," and it appears in Responsibility and Judgment.

In writing about Nazi Germany, Arendt addresses the question: "in what way were those few different who in all walks of life did not collaborate and refused to participate in public life, though they could not and did not rise in rebellion?" This is part of her answer:
The answer to the ... question is relatively simple: the nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience. On the contrary, all our experiences tell us that it was precisely the members of respectable society, who had not been touched by the intellectual and moral upheaval in the early stages of the Nazi period, who were the first to yield. They simply exchanged one system of values against another. I therefore would suggest that the nonparticipants were those whose consciences did not function in this, as it were, automatic way—as though we dispose of a set of learned or innate rules which we then apply to the particular case as it arises, so that every new experience or situation is already prejudged and we need only act out whatever we learned or possessed beforehand. Their criterion, I think, was a different one: they asked themselves to what extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be changed for the better, but simply because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves at all. Hence, they also chose to die when they were forced to participate. To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the command “Thou shalt not kill,” but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer—themselves. The precondition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but rather the disposition to live together explicitly with oneself, to have intercourse with oneself, that is, to be engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which, since Socrates and Plato, we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not, strikes across all social and cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain: that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.

March 21, 2014

Medical Emergency Begging

I'm in very dire straits. The problem that is screaming for relief (almost literally, haha, gotta keep laughin', right?) is my eyes, the right eye in particular. I had thought it was just some kind of minor irritation, but it's been going on for several weeks and it's steadily getting worse. At this point, I can't even use eye wash, which only makes it much more painful. It feels as if something is lodged in the eyelid, but who knows what's going on.

I dread going to a free clinic about an eye problem. I've read the writeups of my local free clinics that appear online, and they're uniformly dreadful. And given my past experiences, I'd strongly prefer to avoid the ER. So I'd like to go to an opthamologist if at all possible. I've located what appears to be a good one nearby, and he seems to be reasonable financially. I figure it will be around $300 for the initial consultation and exam, and then another several hundred dollars if I need a comparatively simple procedure. (If it's something much more complicated, well...who knows, again.)

At the moment, I almost have enough for next month's rent (a couple of hundred dollars short), and that's it. So if I spend what I have on the eye doc, I have nothing left for rent or for anything else.

All of this has been made much worse this week because the awful back pain that I had during the holidays came back on Monday. Seems to be the same exact thing, in the same location. Last time, it was completely agonizing; this time, it's only semi-agonizing. Until today, I wouldn't have been able to get to a doctor anyway; I was lying in bed almost all the time, only able to move a little bit now and then. Now I can manage a few steps, very, very slowly. So I'd like to get to this opthamologist guy ASAP.

PayPal is okay, and I can manage to move enough, albeit slowly and with great care, to withdraw any donated funds promptly. Mail is fine, too. (As before, please write me at arthur4801 at yahoo dot com if you need the address.)

Meanwhile, I have a couple of posts hanging fire. I've tried to work on them, but all I've been able to manage is a few minutes once in a while. After that, words become very blurry and start swimming around, and/or the back pain is too much, so I have to stop. I'd like to be able to finish them, and to write a bunch of other stuff I've been thinking about.

I told a friend that I can't imagine what past sins I'm paying for, but whatever I did, I should have had a lot more fun! My friend, wag that he is, suggested that perhaps I enthusiastically went to work for one of the leading fucking oligarchs on the whole damned planet. Ha. Ha.

Actually not funny at the moment. My good pal Petey O. could sneeze enough money to change my life forever, along with the lives of a number of other people. Fuck him. I mostly feel like smashing a whole lot of stuff. But to do that effectively, I need to be able to, ya know, see it first. God damn it all to hell. (Writing even this is an unbelievably momentous chore. I'm squinting all the time, while my right eye never stops watering.)

Many thanks for listening. I'll let you know how I'm doing in a few days.

March 07, 2014

Edward Snowden, Tattletale

With regard to the following, I urge you to keep in mind several critical facts.

Given all the publicly available evidence, when reporting on the Snowden documents is completed, the general public will have seen only 1% to 2% of all the documents involved. I've analyzed in detail how deeply problematic this is. That's putting it mildly, and with excessive politeness. In fact, this highly selective publishing of leaks is insulting, disgusting, and profoundly offensive.

That earlier essay also discusses the hugely significant fact that Snowden himself, Greenwald, the Guardian and every other so-called "investigative journalist" taking part in this story have willingly and enthusiastically adopted the State's rationales for disclosure and, more importantly, non-disclosure. I've discussed this problem with regard to Greenwald in particular here.

The meaning and final results of this approach are as follows:
Consider the enormous value of the hugely restricted publication of the Snowden documents to the various States involved. Rusbridger, Greenwald, et al. all trumpet the great triumph represented by the "debate" publication has engendered -- the clamor of public voices demands "reform," so committees will be formed, investigations will be undertaken, and when the dust has settled, life for the States involved will go on almost exactly as before (remember: if the NSA were disbanded today, identical surveillance would continue via other agencies and institutions of power) -- and the States will be able to claim that the public knows the "truth," and their activities now have the full blessing of informed public consent.
In short, the methodology adopted by Snowden and the favored journalists is leading straight to complete and utter disaster.

It is also necessary to mention that many of the published documents are offered only with redactions, which are sometimes substantial. Not only that but, as a rule, no explanation is offered as to why particular information has been redacted. Similarly, we are offered only the most general of explanations, if that, for why roughly 98% of the documents will never see the light of day. This presents the general public -- for whose benefit all this heroic work is allegedly undertaken -- with an insurmountable problem of evaluation and understanding.

I explained the problem of selective information -- and in this case, the information the unwashed public is provided is highly selective -- in one of the first articles I wrote about this story, when the journalists' methods had already become clear: see the concluding section of "Fed Up with All the Bullshit," from June of last year. There is a host of questions we simply will never be able to answer. For example, is what we've been allowed to know the worst of what the NSA is doing? It's entirely possible there are far worse things going on. We don't know. It appears we will never know. (And this is not even to mention the activities of all those other agencies: the CIA, the FBI, etc., etc.) Moreover, because the information we are being provided is curated with such care, we don't even know what questions we ought to be asking.

The general reaction to the Snowden leaks and the journalists covering the story -- which is to laud them as "heroes" and to lavish them with every award under the sun -- seems to proceed from what is a third-grader's understanding of the issues involved. We've been told something that we hadn't known (despite the fact that the general outline of what we've been told had been clear to many of us for some time), and what we've been told is very bad. Therefore: woohoo! This is appalling and incredibly dumb.

Now, via Intercept This (a delightful and witty account which I recommend to you, along with Glenn Greenbacks), we can read Snowden's testimony to the European Parliament. I do not offer the following comments to attack Snowden personally. It seems that Snowden has taken great risks to reveal even what comparatively little has been revealed. (I say "seems" because, with every new development, my doubts grow stronger as to whether anything about this story is what it appears to be. I don't think we know anything close to the full truth about any aspect of it.) My concern is and has always been the methodology involved, and how that methodology plays directly into the interests of the States involved. The approach of Snowden and his favored journalists is an enormous boon to those States in countless ways.

Several of Snowden's remarks are highly objectionable ("I love my country, and I believe that spying serves a vital purpose and must continue"; some other doozies are highlighted by the Twitter accounts linked above), but two statements are hideous. First, we have this:
I will now respond to the submitted questions. Please bear in mind that I will not be disclosing new information about surveillance programs: I will be limiting my testimony to information regarding what responsible media organizations have entered into the public domain.
Once isn't enough, so Snowden repeats and briefly amplifies the same idea at the conclusion of his testimony:
As stated previously, there are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights, but I will leave the public interest determinations as to which of these may be safely disclosed to responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders. I have not disclosed any information to anyone other than those responsible journalists.
I emphasize that none of this represents a new approach by Snowden. He has consistently described his method in the same terms from the beginning.

Two points from that earlier discussion are worth repeating here. Snowden has always been at pains to assure everyone -- and most particularly, to assure the State -- that he doesn't want to threaten the State in any serious way. And even though his major concern is with mass surveillance, that, too, would be acceptable to him in general terms, provided it is sanctioned by "informed public consent," and even though he himself would choose differently.

But look again at those concluding remarks to the EU. "[T]here are many other undisclosed programs that would impact EU citizens' rights..." Many other undisclosed programs that affect tens of millions of people. Maybe they'll find out about them, maybe they won't. And Snowden himself won't make that decision. "Responsible journalists in coordination with government stakeholders" will decide. We've witnessed this game for nine months; we know how it's played. The "responsible journalists" and "government stakeholders" will allow us to see perhaps 2% of all the documents Snowden gathered up. With redactions, and without explanations of the redactions or explanations, even in general terms, of what we will never be told.

But honestly, it's more than slightly ridiculous to parse these statements further. Snowden's formulation, and the adoption of his methodology by the "responsible journalists" involved, mean only one thing: these are, ultimately, State-sanctioned leaks. This is State-sanctioned whistleblowing. Whatever dangers much wider, and much more rapid, disclosure might have carried have been entirely obliterated. What remains constitutes no threat of any remotely serious kind to the States implicated. Yes, there will be hearings, some "reforms," and life for the States will go almost exactly as before. Your life, on the other hand ... well, who gives a damn about your life. (One clarification is required. There are undoubtedly some details that will be published that the States would prefer to keep secret. Ideally, of course, the States would prefer to tell the public nothing at all. But the States must deal with the reality that Snowden took a lot of documents. Given that, the methodology followed by the "responsible journalists," and by Snowden himself, is everything the States could desire. Therefore, given the overall context once Snowden made off with the documents, what has been and will be published is State-sanctioned and State-approved in the sense I've described. And always keep in mind that the "responsible journalists" utilize the same rationales for disclosure and non-disclosure that the States do.)

This is not whistleblowing as it has been understood, when information that a State decidedly does not want disclosed is made public, and which then causes serious disruption to the State at a minimum. A tattletale is "a child who tells a parent, teacher, etc., about something bad or wrong that another child has done : a child who tattles on another child." Other definitions are in accord.

Be sure to appreciate the meaning of the highlighted phrase: a tattletale is someone who reports "something bad or wrong" to an authority. And that is precisely what Snowden has done. He has entrusted the documents to "responsible journalists," who have adopted the rationales and methods of the States themselves. Moreover, these "responsible journalists" work together with "government stakeholders" to determine which documents may be "safely disclosed" on the basis of factors that are explained in only the vaguest and most vacuous of terms. We haven't escaped the oppression and abuses of authority: we have only added to the authorities who decide what we will be allowed to know. Before, we were concerned with oppression by the State. Now we can look forward to oppression by the State and by those "responsible journalists" who have lucked into the story of a lifetime, which they then stripped of almost all meaning and impact.

So let us try to use words with precision. Henceforth: Edward Snowden, tattletale. As for these heroic, trail-blazing, State-coddling "responsible journalists" ... hmm. Patsies. Jerks. Contemptible fools and, hardly incidentally, themselves seekers of wealth and power.

I have one request, in the nature of truth in advertising. I want to see all future stories relying on the Snowden documents accompanied by a stamp in which appear the following words. We are provided similar guarantees in connection with food and drugs, for example, and I see no reason not to adapt the practice to "journalism," given what that term now appears to mean. Each such story should carry this ironclad assurance:
This story contains those facts, and only those facts, that we and the State have determined it is safe for you to know. We will never tell you anything else, and we will most certainly never tell you anything more.

March 06, 2014

In Which Our Self-Proclaimed Hero Explodes Himself (I)

[P]rior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me – any more than I cared about the political views of the family that owns and funds Salon (about which I know literally nothing, despite having worked there for almost 6 years), or any more than I cared about the political views of those who control the Guardian Trust.

There’s a very simple reason for that: they have no effect whatsoever on my journalism or the journalism of The Intercept. That’s because we are guaranteed full editorial freedom and journalistic independence. The Omidyar Network’s political views or activities – or those of anyone else – have no effect whatsoever on what we report, how we report it, or what we say.

...

I know little about the specific Ukrainian group at issue here – do any of you touting this article know anything about them? – and I certainly don’t trust this writer to convey anything accurately. -- Glenn Greenwald, On the Meaning of Journalistic Independence (emphasis added)

Glenn Greenwald doesn't know a whole lot. -- Patrick Higgins, The Intercept's Interference: Notes on Media, Capitalism, and Imperialism

I. A Few of the Mysteries of Our Age

I imagine an historian 70 or 100 years hence attempting to convey the reality of investigative journalism in the early part of the 21st century. Assuming he is able to overcome the seemingly intractable problem of an almost complete lack of content for his project -- will there have been investigative journalism on a scale that would justify treatment in any form longer than a brief footnote, and will any such journalism have survived in a manner that would command the attention of a writer or reader? -- he will then collide with a mystifying dilemma. The historian considers the case of a very well-known journalist of that period (our period, for the gods have surely forsaken us). This journalist gobbles up media time and space in a manner that must leave seasoned publicists, who exhaust themselves on behalf of the most colorful of murderers, thieves, and makers of general mayhem, sick with envy. Yet, when the journalist confronts questions concerning his employer and sole funder, even questions that carry but the merest suggestion that perhaps this is a subject requiring analysis and, well, investigation, the journalist offers as explanation and defense his own ignorance coupled with a complete lack of curiosity.

In this instance, we are not concerned with the simple lack of information and a detached disinterest about a subject that fails to touch a person's life in any measurable manner. Here we must contend with one of the richest men in the entire world (number 162 on Forbes' latest list of the world's wealthiest billionaires), a man who, by virtue of his immense wealth and power, seeks to affect and alter his world in numerous ways. His enormous wealth and power mean that he can affect and alter that world. This man, Pierre Omidyar, is also Greenwald's benefactor. Despite these basic facts about Omidyar -- facts which would understandably make any individual (not even a journalist!) who is moderately interested in how and why the world operates as it does curious to know what exactly makes Omidyar tick, and why he pursues certain courses of action -- Greenwald chooses to bludgeon us with proudly proclaimed, comprehensive ignorance, and with a deeply dedicated lack of curiosity about subjects indisputably relevant to his work and financial well-being. Greenwald's impregnable hauteur is striking. It puts me in mind of an aristocrat who, when confronted by a lowly servant announcing that the revolution is at the door, regards the servant with sneering disdain, sniffs with disgust and announces: "I am not interested in the things ... which do not interest me." He may survive the revolution, but not if he must rely on his own efforts.

Our era thus offers a new model for investigative journalism. We are far too sophisticated and worldly to care about the likes of I.F. Stone. Our remarkably advanced grasp of the most complex matters impels us to embrace a very different kind of man. Stone must give way to Sergeant Schultz of Hogan's Heroes: "I see nothing! I know nothing!" I don't recall that Schultz was given a quarter of a billion dollars to start his own camp newsletter, but since I almost never watched the show, I may have missed that development. I'm sure he could have written a whopper of a column, in which he endlessly detailed all that nothingness. (After writing this passage, I discovered that we have progressed so far along this trajectory that Schultz has been selected to the I.F. Stone Hall of Fame. The gods have not only forsaken us: they laugh at us uproariously.)

Our future historian faces still one more mystery. How did it happen that, when Greenwald loudly launched his know-nothing defense -- a strategy which is, at a minimum, odd for a repeatedly self-proclaimed "fearless," "adversarial" journalist -- almost no one in his own time found this at all disconcerting or strange? The astronomer instructs us: "For pity's sake, planets, asteroids, solar systems, galaxies. I don't care about any of that." The priest intones: "All these questions about God and His will. I am not interested in such matters." And no one says a word, or even appears to be mildly perplexed.

What follows involves several interwoven themes. One of those themes is certainly money -- not money alone, but wealth, especially excessive, almost ungraspable wealth, allied with power and status. Perhaps we should have a theme song for this article. Try this one.

II. No One Needs a Goddamn Memo

In the concluding paragraph of his Paean to Blessed Ignorance, which Higgins accurately describes as a piece which "utterly runs on cluelessness," Greenwald repeats a claim he has made numerous times:
But what I do know is that I would never temper, limit, suppress or change my views for anyone’s benefit – as anyone I’ve worked with will be happy to tell you – and my views on such interference in other countries isn’t going to remotely change no matter the actual facts here. I also know that I’m free to express those views without the slightest fear. And I have zero doubt that that’s true of every other writer at The Intercept. That’s what journalistic independence means.
We might observe that it is distinctly peculiar when Our Hero finds it necessary to announce his Heroism and Unbreached and Unbreachable Integrity over and over again. I don't know about you, but when someone repeatedly tells me what a fantastically great guy he is, I tend to discount such declarations rather severely upon the second or third hearing, let alone after the tenth or twentieth. But let us pass on to the nub of the matter, what Greenwald tells us it all means.

For Greenwald, it all means that he has never and would never alter his genuinely-held views on any subject he writes about for anyone in the world. He drives the point home by adding that "anyone" he's ever "worked with" will confirm this -- which possibly implies, without explicitly claiming, that his former employers, for example (Salon and the Guardian), were not entirely pleased with what he wrote on at least a few occasions. Greenwald has also sometimes remarked that if an employer insisted that he change what he had written in a manner that was sufficiently objectionable to him, he would quit. Apparently, this has never happened: he's never quit under such adverse circumstances, but only to go on to what he thought was a better gig. In other words, if there have been any confrontations between Greenwald and an employer over what Greenwald wanted to publish, Greenwald was the victor. He stood up for The Truth, and he always will.

There is, of course, a different way of viewing his declarations of nobility. It is entirely possible that Greenwald has never wanted to publish a column or article that challenged or criticized an employer (or what an employer thought to be in its interests) in a manner that the employer considered serious enough to require a major battle, or perhaps a battle of any kind at all. It may be that the interests and views of Greenwald and his employers are aligned on the most important questions, and that any deviations on Greenwald's part are so comparatively minor in the employers' view that they merit no serious concern whatsoever.

Most of us have had encounters with dedicated adherents of an ideology, religion or political group, or even of a social clique. Think back to when you were in high school. Johnny and his close friends are very popular. They are good at athletics, and good, but not too good, at academics. They're good-looking too; Johnny is a knockout. You cannot become an integral member of their group unless you fulfill these requirements. The kids who do not don't bother to try to get into the group; everyone knows the qualifications. No one needs to be told those qualifications: you observe the group and its members and, assuming you possess a basically working mind, you know what they are. Johnny and his friends allow for a few exceptions: these are the kids who aren't especially good at athletics or academics, nor are they very attractive. But they are very good at something else Johnny wants: they run interference for Johnny with those kids who don't like Johnny and his group. For the most part, these naysayers mind their own business; they aren't looking for trouble. Still, Johnny periodically needs to remind everyone who's running the show. That's where the otherwise undesirable hangers-on come in. They are Johnny's enforcers.

Sometimes, Johnny will give explicit instructions as to how a student he particularly dislikes should be targeted. Usually, he doesn't need to. The hangers-on know what makes Johnny happy, just as all the members of Johnny's clique do, just as everyone does. All of them have watched Johnny for some time; they know what pleases him and what doesn't.

The identical dynamics are at work in adult groups and cliques, whether they be primarily political or social in nature (or some combination of both). It is a pathetic and pitiful commentary on the damaged psychologies of most adults, but it is the sad truth. (For a detailed discussion of the operations of what I term political tribes, see this.) All of us are overly familiar with the complete predictability of conservative and liberal commentators, as one example. Whatever the "hot" topic of the moment is, we know immediately what the views of both groups will be. Sometimes there are exceptions, but they are extraordinarily rare. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, an informed prediction will be correct. Political commentators don't need to be told what views to adopt; if they didn't have views acceptable to the group, they couldn't and wouldn't become part of it in the first place. Once in, they wouldn't remain in if they strayed too often. When they stray too far too frequently, the group will cease to pay attention to them and no one will view the malefactors as "serious" any longer. Those who stray too much will be rendered invisible.

Just as in high school, explicit instructions will occasionally be provided to group members. Recall the JournoList affair of several years ago. But that is rare. Of much more significance is the fact that such coordination is entirely unnecessary. If JournoList had never existed, would any of its members have written anything significantly different from what they wrote while it was extant? No, they would not. The work of the JournoList members both before and after they belonged to JournoList proves that beyond any doubt.

These dynamics are not a deeply-held secret. As I've described, all of us become familiar with them (often painfully so) by the time we are teenagers. Yet we all still have another kind of experience. We are attempting to discuss an issue with a person who identifies with a clearly defined group. We become more and more frustrated by the rote, predictable formulations and replies offered in response to our questions and criticisms. At a certain point, we might exclaim in frustration: "Oh, for God's sake, stop just repeating the party line. Think for yourself!" And the other person will say, as if this constitutes a devastating reply which entirely deflates his opponent: "This is actually what I think on my own. And sorry to disappoint you, but I never received the memo about this."

This is a remarkably stupid answer, but one we hear with shocking frequency. No one needs a memo, for the reasons I've explained. Everyone knows the group's requirements; if they didn't, they would never have become a member at all. In his tribute to the magnificence of unblemished ignorance, Greenwald states: "I have not spoken to Pierre or anyone at First Look – or, for that matter, anyone else in the world – about any of this, and am speaking only for myself here." ("Anyone else in the world"! The unending, indeed unbreached, grandiosity is astounding. At this point, I am surprised only by the fact that Greenwald limits his claim even in this manner; why not "anyone else" in the universe?) At various times, Greenwald (and Scahill, as I recall) have emphatically insisted that the very idea that Omidyar would tell them what to write (or not write) and they would follow his orders is ludicrously laughable. In all these instances, they're saying: "We never got the memo."

It's a remarkably stupid answer. I've criticized Omidyar for many reasons, but I would never accuse him of being stupid in this way, especially when it comes to his investments. The man is a multibillionaire, the 162nd richest man in the world. I do not believe that a man becomes and remains a multibillionaire by setting piles of his money on fire:
To believe that one of the leading oligarchs in the world is going to engage in a prolonged, public act of suicide by funding journalists who will call into question the basic structure of a system that permits him (and a few sanctified others) to accumulate this degree of wealth and power is to believe in the Tooth Fairy and that wishing will make it so. Individuals who devote their lives to acquiring vast wealth and power are not in the business of destroying themselves, or of aiding those whose work might challenge the foundations of their power.
Omidyar knew what he was buying when he hired Greenwald, Scahill, and the rest. He was buying a collection of journalists who would burnish his image of himself as a crusader for "privacy" and against government surveillance (although even that is very strictly limited in a manner most people appear not to grasp, as we shall see), as well as generally bolstering his PR campaign to portray himself as a "good" billionaire. He also bought one more thing: journalism that would never threaten his own interests in any way that need concern him.

The simple, incontrovertible fact is that Greenwald ultimately comes down squarely on the side of power and wealth. The further incontrovertible fact is that, despite what appear to be certain harsh denunciations of the crimes and misdeeds of the powerful, Greenwald tempers and undercuts those criticisms to an extent that renders them toothless and of no consequence. To know all this, Omidyar had only to look at the public record.

Next time, we will do the same. Maestro, play me off!