October 30, 2013

The Doctrine of Exceptionalism Extends Its Reach

Let's briefly review several critical facts.

If there is a single general theme to Glenn Greenwald's career as a journalist, it is that he constantly confronts and challenges power and those who exercise power, primarily in the political sphere. Greenwald himself has often proclaimed this to be his major concern, and he repeated this conviction in a recent interview: "I came to believe if you’re smart, skilled, and have the resources, you should use those things to fuck with the powerful.”

So challenging power and those individuals who exercise power is a positive good, one of critical significance. Indeed, if you are able to do so, you should "fuck with the powerful."

Pierre Omidyar is a multibillionaire. On Fortune magazine's list of "The World's Billionaires," Omidyar appears as number 123. Fortune describes that article as follows: "The names, numbers and stories behind the 1,426 people who control the world economy." At 123, Omidyar is very high on the list of people who control the world economy.

By any measure, Omidyar is a very powerful man, one of the most powerful in the world.

You may choose to believe Omidyar's own proclamations about his work and goals:
Pierre and Pam Omidyar are active philanthropists engaged in numerous efforts to make the world a better place. Through their work, Pierre and Pam seek to provide opportunities for people to improve their lives, and ignite change across a variety of sectors and geographies. Guided by their belief that people are inherently capable and basically good, Pierre and Pam have committed more than $1 billion to causes ranging from entrepreneurship to human rights to chronic illness in children.
You may view this as noble and admirable. Or, perhaps, you may be struck by its insufferable pomposity and condescension. (I admit that I tend toward the latter view and paraphrased that remarkable paragraph to a friend as follows: "A multibillionaire who pats the rest of humanity on the head, and says: 'There, there, now. I realize you're poor, and sick, and have a shitty life -- but you're good too! I sincerely believe that! You're good! And you can do ... well, something. Cheer up you poor, sick person with a shitty life! I'm here to help you!'")

But if we seek to analyze power, especially power on a vast scale, in a serious manner -- as Greenwald the journalist would surely have us do -- whether we believe in Omidyar's (or anyone's) nobility is entirely beside the point. The question is: Is it good for anyone at all to have this degree of power? There are additional questions: How does an individual acquire this much wealth and power? Even if his intentions are impossibly pure today, what happens if they change tomorrow? And there are many more related questions. I once remarked: "A government that has the power to save you also has the power to kill you." The same is true of individuals.

This is the man with whom Greenwald has now formed an alliance. This is the man who says he wants to fund journalism which will systematically challenge the powerful. That challenge is Greenwald's calling card as a journalist, and it is the trait that Greenwald and Omidyar tell us they seek to encourage and strengthen by means of their other hires. As the result of his alliance with Omidyar, Greenwald himself is rapidly becoming a man of notable wealth -- and power.

If we apply Greenwald's own methodology to his new venture -- if, that is, we utilize the methodology which Greenwald tells us has brought him to the point where Omidyar finds it valuable and in his self-interest to go into business with him -- aren't we required to ask the questions Greenwald asks of all those who exercise power on a significant scale, but now ask those questions about Greenwald and Omidyar?

Shouldn't we wonder if Omidyar has connections to companies that are directly implicated in the Snowden revelations -- for example, Booz Allen? Shouldn't we inquire as to whether such connections may affect future stories about surveillance? Isn't it possible, perhaps even likely, that major conflicts of interest will arise? That companies to which Omidyar is connected in complex, non-obvious ways might not wish certain of their activities to be revealed? I would suggest these represent only the beginning of the questions that should occur to us.

If we wish to analyze the operations of power critically, we should adopt the approach that Greenwald repeatedly insists is the keystone to his work. Yet it appears that this is the one thing we must not do under any circumstances. Or, rather, we must not use Greenwald's own methodology now, in these particular circumstances, since Greenwald himself would be subjected to the kind of questioning to which he subjects everyone else.

This is not a new story; it is the oldest story in the world. Beware the moralist -- and Greenwald is, among other things, most certainly a moralist -- who champions a standard for judging others, and who often applies that standard with merciless severity, but who exempts himself from that same standard. The same is true for many of Greenwald's most fervent defenders: questions, and judgments, that they direct at many others are on permanent sabbatical as far as Greenwald and Omidyar are concerned.

I am not primarily concerned with particular conclusions we might consider justified at this early stage (although I have certainly indicated a few conclusions of my own, based on what I consider to be strong arguments). I'm most concerned with method -- and the method at issue is the one forcefully advocated by Greenwald himself over the course of a number of years.

But with very rare exceptions, none of Greenwald's admirers will entertain the indicated questions with even a modicum of seriousness. I see this in the reaction to my own posts on these matters: for the most part, my articles have been entirely ignored, even by those who often link and discuss my posts on other subjects. And I see the same reaction to others who cast a critical gaze on the Greenwald-Omidyar alliance. Is that what the pre-Omidyar Greenwald would counsel his current defenders to do? When confronted by a new venture which is the very embodiment of wealth and power, would pre-Omidyar Greenwald tell people to emulate the monkeys who decline to hear, see or speak of possibly discomfiting matters?

In discussing Greenwald's ascension of the ladder of power and fame, I have remarked on the parade of awful ironies that now greet us daily. To the ironies I have already identified, we can add one more. Greenwald has written extensively about the endlessly destructive results of the doctrine of American exceptionalism. That doctrine instructs us that the United States government is entitled to pass judgment on the actions of every other nation in the world. When the U.S. ruling class is displeased, it is further entitled to mete out that punishment it deems appropriate in its sole discretion. There is no appeal from the court of the U.S. ruling class. Its judgment is final. (I have analyzed this noxious doctrine at length: "The Blood-Drenched Darkness of American Exceptionalism.")

American exceptionalism imparts another "truth": when the United States government acts in ways that our ruling class utterly condemns when pursued by others, that too is completely acceptable, and even admirable, for the U.S., but only for the U.S. The standards that the U.S. applies to everyone else are never to be applied to the U.S. itself, except on those extremely rare occasions when the United States charitably grants leave to do so (which is almost always when the exercise has ceased to have any meaning).

Greenwald has repeatedly and heatedly condemned the nature and operations of this doctrine. But now a doctrine identical in its premises and meaning has arisen in a very different context. Call it the Doctrine of Greenwald Exceptionalism.

Forget everything you knew. Abandon all the principles you championed. Set aside all the questions and critiques that would occur to you in an instant if anyone other than Greenwald were involved. It's always the first surrender that is the hardest. Get past that, and you're on your way. Bask in the praise that will be yours. Perhaps you'll even get a job offer. They are actively hiring, after all.

If you have ever wondered why power wins so easily, you have no excuse for wondering any longer. Everyone loves a winner. Power is safety, power is comfort, power is life.

You should remember, and I mean this only figuratively (for the moment): power is also death.

The entire spectacle is disgusting.

October 24, 2013

Dying for Control (III): The State as Your Nightmare Lover from Hell

Part I: Neurosis and Terror as National "Policy"

Part II: An Exhausted Culture, Founded on Psychological Manipulation

In the preceding part of this series, I described the ways in which all of us, with tragically rare exceptions, are taught to be experts in psychological and emotional manipulation. As Alice Miller has shown in her work, the methods by which we learn these dark arts are universal; they can be found in almost all cultures, in all historical periods. And we must always remember the other lesson we are taught, which is necessarily and inextricably linked to the mastering of manipulative skills: the axiomatic fundamentality of obedience to authority. These related lessons are killers in multiple senses: they suffocate originality and spontaneity of thought and feeling; they transform genuine happiness and joy into phantoms forever eluding our grasp, to be replaced by the gray drudgery of days devoted to pleasing others, always trying to gain their favor and struggling to avoid even the smallest sign of strong disapproval; and, when transferred into the political realm, they lead to suffering and brutality on a vast scale, and even to mass death and genocide.

I have also argued that the elements forming the core of our psychologies are identical in the personal and political realms. Proponents of the State and of State power would like us to believe otherwise; they maintain that individuals who may be driven by greed, resentment, anger or even rage, and a host of other factors commonly regarded as negative in nature, are miraculously transformed into selfless saints when they work on behalf of "the people." How this transmogrification occurs -- how it is even possible -- remains one of the great mysteries of the ages. And when we consider the matter, we see that a transformation of this kind is not only impossible, but that the opposite must be true.

We are taught the indispensability of psychological manipulation; the great value of manipulation (in this catechism) is that it enables us to control others: "In both the personal and the political realms, the pursuit of control means the pursuit of power -- and the pursuit of power means the pursuit of power over other human beings. Those who wish to rule, wish to rule people." Because we are first taught the art of manipulation when we are young children, most of us absorb the lesson unthinkingly. Most of us never consciously examine this mode of behaving and living. We know that everyone does it, it's just the way things are. Yet many people sense that constant manipulation is a great danger to be avoided; they realize, but only in an emotional sense, that manipulation destroys the chance of genuine connection to others, just as it destroys the chance of real happiness and fulfillment. So most people practice manipulation haphazardly and inconsistently. When they try to manipulate others to get they want, they sometimes succeed, but they often fail. They play the game, but only as amateurs.

And then there are those who excel at the art of manipulation. These are the professionals, those who rise to the uppermost levels of corporate enterprises (or academia) -- and those who enter politics. These individuals have developed their sensitivity to the feelings and reactions of others to an exquisite pitch: they often know how others will react to a particular stratagem before those others know themselves. They practice manipulation full-time, as a way of life. Such people learn the skills of deception very early. They first deceive their parents, by telling them what they, the parents, want to hear. When they see how easy it is to be successful in this manner, they do it with teachers and professors, and then with those with whom they interact in business. If they go into politics, they manipulate and deceive other politicians -- and, of course, they manipulate and deceive their constituents, the voters.

Those who become masters of manipulation, who take positive pleasure in controlling and exerting power over others, are frequently and inevitably drawn to politics. For politics is the perfect playground for such individuals: they seek power over others, and the State permits them to force others to act as the manipulators desire under the compulsion of law. This is the professional manipulator's dream come true. The manipulator will always tell himself, just as he will tell you, that he does everything "for your own good." This is his all-purpose justification and rationalization; it is the justification he learned from his parents in the first instance. When our parents teach us the crucial importance of manipulation and the necessity of obedience to authority, they always tell us they do so "for our own good." But manipulation on the scale practiced by the politician, especially a politician on the national level, rests on a deep reservoir of anger and rage, and a profound contempt for humanity in general. The proof lies in the fact that the manipulator's playground is all too often transformed into a killing field, as history shows us with horrifying frequency.

The highly skilled manipulator constantly adjusts his tactics. He cannot be too obvious, or go too far. That would arouse the suspicions, and perhaps even the resistance, of those he seeks to manipulate and control. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in our personal lives. It may have happened with a close friend, or a lover. You begin dating a man or woman. The two of you have real "chemistry" together, intellectually, emotionally, and sexually. You quickly spend more and more time together, spending many nights at each other's homes. After several weeks, or perhaps a month, your new lover gives you a copy of the keys to his home -- and suggests that you do the same. You're not at all comfortable with that. You think that things are moving too quickly, and you give voice to your reservations. Your new lover immediately tells you that he understands completely, and he apologizes profusely. He tells you that you're absolutely right.

You continue dating, and spend a lot of time at the other's home. A few more months go by. You become completely comfortable with the relationship. Your lover is wonderfully attentive to all your needs, and all your moods. You are true soul mates. You've given him the keys to your home, and now you're talking about moving in together. Three or four more months go by, and the two of you are living in a new home, and you have a joint checking account. Your lives become completely commingled. Everything is wonderful, and you're very happy for a time. Then, again over a period of only a few months, it all begins to fall apart. Small differences become large conflicts. You clash more and more often. Finally, your lover -- who is still a comparatively "new" lover, for all of this has happened in a couple of years, or perhaps even less time -- tells you that he's met someone who is truly his ideal. Everything he thought he had found in you he has found in someone else. You struggle along together for a while longer -- how, you wonder, could all this have happened so quickly? -- but the relationship only gets worse. Finally, you come to your senses and kick him out. In part, you do this because, during the last part of your relationship, you paid most of both your living expenses yourself. You had much more money, and he was going through hard times, and you were still trying to work things out, so why wouldn't you? But it's finally over.

And it takes you a long time to understand how the hell it happened.

Many of us have experiences like this, in more or less extreme forms, if not with a lover, then with a close friend. What is important is the pattern: the professional manipulator is always advancing, always trying to bend others to his will in additional ways. Occasionally, he will go too far. The object of his manipulations will then resist, and might even become suspicious more generally. So the manipulator will have to retreat -- but it's a strategic retreat. He only retreats so that he will soon be able advance farther. He falls back temporarily, but then regains the ground he has given up, and stakes out new ground on which he can build as he wishes. The work of the professional manipulator is never done, and he is never satisfied. As long as other people exist, as long as others can choose not to fall prey to his manipulations, he will never have enough power.

The same is true for the professional manipulator in politics. And politics, especially national politics, is peopled only with professional manipulators. Keep these dynamics in the forefront of your mind, and consider the NSA-surveillance stories in their light. And read these provocative comments from a few months ago:
Snowden’s revelations have generated a great deal of pushback from a wide spectrum of political interests, so much so that a veritable avalanche of bills have been introduced in both the House and Senate to rein in the NSA. And with the Obama administration throwing Snowden induced temper tantrums, it has really been starting to look like this story is the real deal


Nothing gets this kind of press coverage unless it serves somebody’s agenda. The American press are wholly owned and operated by those who seek to shift power from political to economic. The press does not serve the public… there’s a reason billionaire Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post. This story is benefitting money somewhere, somehow. But how?

As usual, Catherine Austin Fitts has it figured out. In her words:
Now that the financial coup is complete, the trail is cold and the money across, we are proceeding to rebuild the overt side of the economy. Now that new economy has the benefit of reduced labor costs, complete digital control, is free of legacy retirement and pension fund obligations with the power of unions significantly diminished. However, the “brand” of American democracy needs revival given what has happened to the reality of it.

In addition, the military-intelligence bureaucracies who were most instrumental in engineering the coup need to be put back in their place, same as the financial ones have experienced. Those parts of the intelligence and enforcement agencies and related defense contractors (particularly systems and telecommunications companies) need to be return[ed] to a quieter, more obedient role. They are having their hands slapped. As the boom is lowered, the cowboys are getting put back in their box, reminded as to whom is boss. ...
In other words: tyranny is bad for business. Business is the mechanism by which power gets consolidated at the economic level and away from the political level. But business cannot function beyond a certain point under repressive regimes. It requires things like consumer confidence, trust in the currency, faith in the rule of law.
I'm not familiar with the site where this post appears; from skimming a few entries quickly, and because of some formulations in the balance of this entry itself, I don't agree with certain aspects of its analysis. The same is true of Fitts: I think she is unusually perceptive on some crucial issues, but I differ with her on other matters.

But the critical point in this passage is true in my view, and it is what I argue above. Actually, several critical points are true.

The NSA-surveillance stories are widely covered because at least one segment of the ruling class wants them covered, and finds such coverage to be in its interests. We're not talking about a renegade radical publisher here, or a contemporary version of Tom Paine distributing pamphlets on streetcorners: the stories are delivered to us by major press outlets. Given the nature of our corporatist State, those major press outlets are connected to the State in numerous ways. In some fashion, the State has blessed the NSA stories. They wouldn't be published where and how they're published if that were not the case.

Over the last decade, the United States government, together with other Western states, has continually ratcheted up numerous oppressive measures: from airport undressings and strip searches, to drone murder, to constantly increasing surveillance, to the imposition of martial law in an experiment to determine how easily that degree of control can be imposed (incredibly easily, it turns out), to many more. Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to these devices of control, and they increasingly view them as a normal part of life. But the State -- run by the most expert of manipulators -- must be careful not to go too far. If it does, a troubling number of Americans (troubling to the State, that is) might grow restless. If the State appears to be going off the rails in too brazen a manner, some Americans might even begin to gather together to resist the State's actions.

So the State needs to provide a release valve. And, as Fitts observes, certain elements "need to be put back in their place." It's not -- I repeat, it is not -- that those elements are being put out of business. To the contrary: they remain in business, but some discretion is called for. The same measures will continue to be employed, but the State will put on its soft gloves. Indeed, some refer to the current state of affairs as a "soft tyranny." And that is the way the State wants to keep it for the moment. A "hard tyranny" may come out of hiding at some point -- most likely, in response to a major terrorist attack (or what is billed as one), or a financial collapse -- but that will happen after the ground is more fully prepared, after Americans have lived with increasing control for a longer period of time.

Tarzie recently wrote about how and why the ruling class has approved the NSA leaks, writing in part:
So, to summarize, we know that certain wealthy, important people around the world are concerned about the NSA because:

1. Their own emails and phone calls are being monitored by the NSA
2. The NSA is engaging in corporate espionage
3. NSA spying interferes with profitable internet business by impeding customer trust
These explanations largely track those offered by Fitts for the NSA stories. All these reasons are true (and Tarzie offers further reasons, which you should read). To these reasons, I now add this further related explanation, which is a systemic one, if you will, concerning the tactics of manipulation and readjustments that periodically are required, including strategic retreat.

And if you reflect on the NSA leaks in light of this combination of reasons, then the emergence of these stories is easily understood. From the "careful" and "responsible" manner in which the leaks are so carefully manicured, to the remaking of dissent from what could be a serious threat to the State into a familiar screenplay ready-made for Hollywood, to dissent that is like a comfortable pair of old, tattered slippers that even Richard Cohen is happy to wear -- all of it makes perfect sense.

All of it is not only not any kind of threat to the State: it all serves the interests of the State and the ruling class.

And now, like the perfect decoration on top of the State's deadly concoction of oppression and control -- but oppression and control delivered to us gently, trying to soften all the rough edges (for now) -- we have Greenwald's alliance with Pierre Omidyar, one of the richest people in the entire world. Omidyar is a multibillionaire who benefits in countless, huge ways from the existing authoritarian-corporatist system. To believe that he would do anything that would seriously threaten that system is idiocy of the first order. And if he did, the State would very quickly slap him down. The existing corporatist system is one that encompasses the world. If Omidyar genuinely threatened it, that system could destroy him in an instant. Omidyar himself knows that. That so many others are apparently oblivious to this blindingly obvious fact, including many on the supposed "left," only makes the deadly work of that system that much easier.

Today's New York Times carries a story about the "fury" of "leaders and citizens in Germany" in response to America's spying. The article also references the similar angered reaction in France, and the postponement of Brazil's state visit to the U.S. All of this, too, is easily understood when we remember the factors discussed above. Part of it is various factions of the elite reasserting themselves against other factions and protecting their own particular interests, and part of it is to assure the general populace that, yes, some of the elite have gone too far. But don't worry: we'll see that the excesses are curbed, and that balance is again restored.

This, once more, is only strategic retreat. Any "excesses" involved are not going to be eliminated completely; they may be scaled back a bit -- and then, when the time is right, they will reemerge even more powerfully. This is why I have observed that it is precisely when the State grants concessions and seems to retreat (and perhaps even actually retreats on a few points it considers temporarily dispensable) that you should be especially wary and on guard. These are master manipulators. They are not in the business of giving up power altogether. Their goal is always more power, and more wealth. You forget this central fact at your great peril.

In today's Times piece, after discussing the reactions in Germany and France, we read this:
Both episodes illustrated the diplomatic challenge to the United States posed by the cache of documents that Mr. Snowden handed to the journalist Glenn Greenwald and others. Last week, Mr. Greenwald concluded a deal with the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to build a new media platform that aims in part to publicize other revelations from the data Mr. Greenwald now possesses.
This is stated so starkly, and so shockingly, that I am amazed that huge crowds of people have not already stormed every government building in Washington, D.C. But then I remember that we are victims of the Stockholm Syndrome, and I am not surprised at all. More and more, we survive only at the State's mercy. When the State grants even a temporary reprieve, when it engages in strategic retreat, we breathe a brief sigh of relief. The State has permitted us to live another day. We are grateful for even the smallest, meaningless morsels of information and "dissent."

Omidyar is one of the critical players in the corporatist system that is strangling the world. That system is what provided his power and wealth, and what sustains them. And Greenwald exerts what is a near monopoly on the Snowden documents (and what may be a true monopoly with regard to many of them). The data has not been distributed in a widespread manner that would truly concern the State (any State). The Omidyar-Greenwald partnership and their promised "new media platform" is another safety valve for the ruling class, a way of assuring people that things aren't that bad, that there is still reason to hope, that the system can be "reformed." In this way, the ruling class reestablishes trust. People become comfortable once again -- and then the stage is set for the ruling class to exert still greater control, to oppress our lives even more.

The State is your nightmare lover from hell. Its ultimate goal is complete control. In time, if you permit it, it will destroy you altogether.

October 22, 2013

The Establishment Makes Big, Sloppy Love to the Snowden Leaks

Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column this morning is a true tour de force in explaining the function of our Beltway media stars. Cohen’s column — which grieves over the grave and tragic injustice brought down upon Lewis “Scooter” Libby — should be immediately laminated and placed into the Smithsonian History Museum as an exhibit which, standing alone, will explain so much about what happened to our country over the last six years. It is really that good.

One could write media criticisms for the next several years and not come close to capturing the essence of our Beltway media the way Cohen did ....

That really is the central belief of our Beltway press, captured so brilliantly by Cohen in this perfect nutshell. When it comes to the behavior of our highest and most powerful government officials, our Beltway media preaches, “it is often best to keep the lights off.” If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is. ...

If even our Beltway media — rather, especially them — argues that criminality by government officials should not be punished, and that light should not be shined on what they do, then pervasive government corruption and deceit are inevitable. That is just obvious. And that is why Cohen’s column so perfectly captures what has happened in our country and the truly indispensable role which most of our political press has played in all of it. -- From an article by some writer, who happened to be entirely correct on this occasion
I have to agree that no one more perfectly captures the wretchedly pathetic character of the ruling class and the Establishment than the irrepressible, wonderfully witty, power- and status-worshipping Richard Cohen. If he were fictional, we would laugh at the preposterousness of the invention. Since he is real, we laugh harder.

All of that makes Cohen's latest column worthy of note. The title declares: "Edward Snowden is no traitor." Cohen acknowledges that his initial judgments about Snowden -- that he was "ridiculously cinematic," "narcissistic," and "no real whistleblower" -- "were just plain wrong." Cohen then dispenses with a few of the major criticisms levelled at Snowden, noting that he "seems to have sold out to no one," and that his "residency in Russia has been forced upon him."

Cohen is now convinced that Snowden "is an authentic whistleblower." Moreover, this perfect embodiment of the Establishment is completely comfortable with what we've learned through the Snowden leaks. He's so comfortable with these leaks that he'd like to curl up with them and have a friendly drink. Cohen wants to be BFF with these leaks. He simply adores them.

Why is Cohen making big sloppy love to the Snowden leaks? Here's the first reason:
He has been careful with his info, doling it out to responsible news organizations — The Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. — and not tossing it up in the air, WikiLeaks style, and echoing the silly mantra “Information wants to be free.” (No. Information, like most of us, wants a home in the Hamptons.)
Cohen includes that last bit about the Hamptons because he wants to remind everyone -- and assure other members of the ruling class -- that he himself is a member of the ruling class, and that he revels in it. When he writes "most of us," the emphasis is on us. He also wants to remind us ordinary folk that he's far better than we are, and we'd better not forget it.

The ruling class, including Cohen, love "careful" and "responsible" leaking. Such characterizations are painfully familiar at this point in the Snowden saga --for these are precisely the terms the select journalists who so carefully dole out little dribs and drabs from the Snowden trove use to describe their own work. These select journalists also employ the same noxious comparisons to WikiLeaks, as I just recently discussed:
The unavoidable implication of the way the NSA stories are marketed is that the NSA stories represent "good" leaking, while WikiLeaks represents "bad" leaking. Greenwald & Co. are "responsible," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are "careful," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are superbly protective of everyone on the planet, including the murderous ruling class, while WikiLeaks endangers every constituted authority and everyone who exercises destructive political power.
Cohen keenly appreciates my point that the manner of the Snowden leaks is "superbly protective" of the "ruling class," which is precisely why he's undressing the leaks so he can get more intimate with them.

Cohen has an additional reason for loving these leaks: "I am sure, though, that he has instigated a worthwhile debate." Ah, yes, the debate. Funny thing about "debates": when you debate an opponent, you grant, at minimum, a patina of legitimacy to the other side. "I want to murder you!" "I don't want you to murder me!" Let's debate! Maybe we can compromise on a less violent murder. Maybe I won't notice that I'm dead.

"We intend to spy on you everywhere, all the time, about everything!" "Oh, no! You shouldn't do that. You should only spy on me when you have a really good reason!" Let's debate! And the State will decide when it has a really good reason.

Once again, having a debate was one of the primary goals announced by Snowden himself, as well as by his chosen journalists. Chris Floyd recently offered these powerful comments about debates of this kind:
Snowden apparently put his life and liberty at risk just to see if the American people supported blanket surveillance of themselves and the world. And if they do – well, that gives the whole sinister shebang “a level of legitimacy.” So if the polls eventually show that most people are down with the invasive-pervasive spy program – because, after all, “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide” – then it’s all A-OK. Because there would have been a debate, you see, and that’s the main thing. That’s what gives even morally wrong programs their legitimacy. As long as, say, invasive surveillance, torture, aggressive war and hit squads have been given a sufficient modicum of ‘public input,’ of ‘transparency,’ then that’s all that matters. It would be too radical, too harmful, if one were to condemn such practices out of hand as sickening acts of depravity and state terror.

My word, we don’t want that kind of thing, do we? What we want – as our custodians have repeatedly declared – is to have our carefully vetted revelations provoke a debate that will lead to reform.
Floyd then dispenses with the notion of "reform," and you should read what he has to say.

The conclusion should be painfully obvious. The manner in which the Snowden leaks are being delivered to us represents no serious threat to the ruling class and the Establishment whatsoever. The ruling class is entirely comfortable with the leak stories. In fact, the ruling class affirmatively benefits from leaks of this kind: Americans are becoming accustomed to a startlingly comprehensive level of surveillance, and they are granting it their approval. That we are surveilled much if not most of the time is barely even "news" any longer. It's just the way things are. Perhaps we need to make a few adjustments at the outer margins, but basically everything is hunky-dory. Add a little "transparency," "oversight" and "accountability" and Americans will let the State surveil them 24/7. Don't you want to be safe? Of course you do.

As I say, all this is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. When Richard Cohen makes mad, passionate love to what is claimed to be "dissenting," "hardhitting," "fiercely independent" journalism, you know for a certainty that a fundamentally wrong turn has been made -- a turn directly into the welcoming, ardent arms of power.

But it is not obvious to everyone. In fact, it appears not to have even registered with Glenn Greenwald, who tweeted the following:
Richard Cohen does a complete about-face on Edward Snowden: [link]
Greenwald offers it straight. Not a hint of irony. Not the merest suggestion that perhaps, just perhaps, it might be a sign of trouble that Cohen wants to take the leaks home for a wickedly debauched weekend. Not even a single question. Nor does Greenwald offer any thoughts about the fact that he and his colleagues have marketed the Snowden leaks in a manner that Richard Cohen -- Richard Cohen, of all people -- finds thoroughly admirable and helpful. One might have thought that Greenwald would appreciate that helping Richard Cohen -- and thus helping the ruling class -- is not exactly what Greenwald claims to be the purpose of his work. Not exactly.

Some people have questioned me as to whether I've been too tough on Greenwald in my posts on the Snowden stories. C'mon, Arthur, they say. Greenwald is the only mainstream journalist who's even close to our views. We have to support him! What other chance do we have?

If this represents the only chance we have, we're finished. But it doesn't, and if you think it does, you lack imagination, and probably courage as well. But the love letter from Cohen does convince me of one thing in connection with my Snowden-Greenwald posts: I haven't been nearly tough enough.

Oh, yes. You probably want to know who "some writer" is with regard to the description of Cohen that heads this post. You know the answer to that question. It was Glenn Greenwald.

Of course.

October 17, 2013

Fucked, Baby

I originally wrote the following as an email to a few friends. But, because I love you all so much, I decided to share it with you. I'm in kind of a "what the hell" mood. For background on the general subject matter, you might want to read my recent critiques of Greenwald & Co.: "When Whistleblowing Is Obedience and Tribute to the State," and "Dissidence, and Dissidents, that Even Hollywood Can Love."

And who knows. Perhaps if enough people express skepticism of this kind (and/or for reasons of their own), the keepers of the Snowden secrets will move much more quickly, and we'll be deluged with NSA and surveillance stories a month from now.

Dream on, baby.

So here's my private email, published for your pleasure, edification, self-torture, what the fuck ever.

Love, Me


A number of things continue to stink and/or mystify about this GG/eBay shebang.

According to Rosen, GG & Co. and Omidyar have only been talking for a couple of weeks. The stories make clear that this new venture is still in the early embryonic stage. And what they want to do -- what Omidyar thinks is absolutely necessary -- is an all-encompassing news, entertainment, sports, EVERYTHING kind of deal, a full-service site where all needs and desires will be fulfilled. (Gee, will they have a personals section, too? Learn stuff, engage in "meaningful protest" AND fuck! Truly heaven on earth.)

Even if they work on it 24 hours a day, it's gotta take at least a few months to get everything in place, and probably longer. A couple of months runs smack into the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Since the U.S. market is obviously critical, that's a very bad time to launch a major new site. And they probably couldn't get it done that quickly anyway. (Just think of the number of staff people, writers, editors, graphics designers, tech issues, etc., etc. that have to be developed, tested, and so on.)

So we're into next year. At the very earliest, it seems to me we're talking about late January-February. GG's book is scheduled for publication in March. The publisher could move it up by a couple of weeks if it really wanted to -- and I think this is the kind of situation where it might want to.

Thusly and therefore: it appears to me that there might be a few dribbles of Snowden stories between now and then -- but essentially nothing new will come out until the book is published (and the movie deal is well in place and already being written, for the movie folk probably will have had the ms for a couple of months by then). In other words: the Snowden stories will come close to stopping altogether for four to six months. In fact, that process has already begun. We're only getting the occasional dribble now.

Whatever else one might say, the Snowden leak is clearly not a matter of any urgency -- at least it isn't to GG & Co. Also: how does one simultaneously argue that a series of stories is MIND-SHATTERINGLY SIGNIFICANT AND WORLD-CHANGING -- and justify holding onto major parts of it for the better part of a year?

This whole thing is incredibly fucked. You could argue pretty convincingly at this point that it was the business plan that came first -- and they decided they needed a good "hook." The Snowden leak was the hook, but the business plan was the real deal.

I don't think it actually happened that way (probably) -- but the point is, it doesn't matter. Given how it's playing out, and given the impact the Snowden leak will have -- and more importantly, will NOT have -- it might as well have happened that way.

What's the line just before someone is murdered? "It's nothing personal. It's just business."

Just business. You don't get to be a multibillionaire and one of the richest people on the planet by forgetting about business. Ever. You also don't get to be Omidyar by seriously threatening the powers that be. C'mon: Omidyar IS one of the powers that be.

Like I said: well and truly fucked.

October 15, 2013

Dissidence, and Dissidents, that Even Hollywood Can Love

The most revolutionary and significant aspect of the promise that WikiLeaks offered the world was its radical method of disseminating information. Beginning in very early childhood, all of us are taught to rely on authority figures for everything: for personal and professional advancement and fulfillment, for opportunities of all kinds, for survival itself. Most damningly, we are all taught to rely on authorities for what to think: for our opinions on what books and movies to like or to revile, for our political views, for our perspectives on other people -- and even for our view of ourselves. Information comes to us only after it has passed through numerous filters: via our parents in the first instance, then through our teachers and professors, later on from bosses at work and "tastemakers" and trendsetters in the social sphere, and from "experts" in any field which claims complexity for itself that is not amenable to understanding by laypeople. (I note in passing that every subject in the world should be communicable in a manner that makes it fully understandable to a basically functioning adult. By every subject, I mean every subject, including quantum physics. If an "expert" claims that he cannot make an idea understandable to you, he's trying to get away with something. I suggest that you treat any pronouncement from all such individuals with the greatest skepticism of which you are capable. In short: don't believe a word they say.)

WikiLeaks eliminated the filters -- and most people were horrified. One of the most fascinating revelations in the widespread response to WikiLeaks' work was that the disapproval of its basic approach -- disapproval which ranged from contained but pointed tut-tutting ("My dear, we simply cannot function this way as a society!") to outright loathing -- was spread throughout the continuum of political views. Many of those on the left were as undone by WikiLeaks as those on the right, thus confirming that our culture's insistence on the primary virtue of obedience to authority transcends comparatively superficial political distinctions.

Because it is crucial to what follows, I offer this summary of WikiLeaks' methodology:
[WikiLeaks] transfers the demanding work -- understanding the material in the first instance, and then making those judgments we think justified -- to each and every one of us. Many people don't want the responsibility. Their greatest preference is to defer to authority, to obey. WikiLeaks deprives them of that opportunity. One of the results is that many people profoundly resent WikiLeaks and wish only that it would instantly dissolve into nothingness.

This particular resentment stands largely separate and apart from a writer's political beliefs, and you find it on both right and left. It is more deeply personal than political convictions alone. WikiLeaks allows people no excuse merely to obey, and they no longer have justification for being intellectually lazy. WikiLeaks' critics often decry the manner in which government systematically and increasingly disregards citizens' voices and concerns -- but present them with the means to take back their own power in a meaningful way, and they recoil in horror. In addition to being invaluable in itself, WikiLeaks' work provides this additional benefit: it reveals many people's actual motivations and concerns. And one great truth that has been revealed (again) by this latest episode is that the majority of people want to be guided by authority, by "experts," by those with "secret information." Give them that "secret information" so they can judge it for themselves and they immediately cry: "Oh, we can't possibly understand that! Only the State, or 'experts,' can be trusted with that information and explain it to us!" Most people want to obey. They've been taught obedience as the primary virtue, and they now believe the lesson and have fully internalized it.
For a detailed discussion of this issue, see "In Praise of Mess, Chaos and Panic," and the essays referenced there.

As I set out in "In Praise of Mess" and developed further here and here, WikiLeaks' methodology stands in stark contrast to that used by the journalists to whom Edward Snowden gave his document trove. These journalists insist that filtering of the "raw" documents is indispensable to understanding by the otherwise untutored (and, presumably, unwashed) public. These journalists will first select which documents we will be permitted to see, and which we won't (which is most of them). But that is far from sufficient in the view of these journalists, who are gifted with powers of understanding and judgment far exceeding the abilities of us ordinary schmucks. We are told that the Snowden documents are "difficult" and "complex." Therefore, when we are allowed an occasional glimpse of carefully selected documents, these journalists will explain to us what we should think of them, and what conclusions we are entitled to reach. These self-appointed authorities are genuinely dedicated to the role they have granted themselves: they will guide us in every step we take. Our "protectors" will guard from all the dangers that might unleash chaos resulting in the immediate implosion of the rigid structures that narrowly circumscribe our lives: an original thought, a unique perspective, an unexpected insight.

If you are an unreconstructed and unsalvageable advocate of spontaneity and universe-shattering chaos, a troubling thought might occur to you at this point. In terms of basic approach, what choice is there between a State which is committed to constantly increasing its control over every aspect of our lives -- and "experts" who are determined to shepherd us through each step of accessing and evaluating information, even information which directly affects every aspect of our lives? A few of you are thinking that this is no choice at all. Obviously, you're entirely correct. You need to bathe in scalding water, and pray for deliverance from the gods of authority. It is pitiful that these journalist-"experts" are commonly regarded as presenting a serious challenge to the authoritarian State. It is equally pitiful that most of those on the left (broadly speaking) subscribe to this same view. This is further evidence of the universality of our training in the primacy of obedience. If you think authoritarianism is confined to the right, you have failed to pay attention in recent years, and you have missed much of history.

The radical nature of WikiLeaks' approach could conceivably be dramatized in a film, but it would require a writer and director of extraordinary talent and imagination. Such a film would also depend on creators willing to challenge our culture's widespread condemnation of WikiLeaks. People of this kind are unusual in any culture, and they are unheard of in Hollywood. It is only to be expected that The Fifth Estate, the Disney film about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that opens later this week, sounds absolutely dreadful, as detailed in this valuable article: "Disney's Ode to State Repression." The writer notes that the film "serves as a rolling character assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange," and goes on to write:
Wikileaks has been at the forefront of the contemporary effort to push out uncensored, unvarnished data about crimes that range from corporate banking scandals to the U.S. massacre of Reuters reporters in Iraq. What really catches in the government’s craw? You’re free to review and assess that data unencumbered by big media spin or government censorship. How else to explain the feds’ debauched assault on independent journalist Barrett Brown, who’s facing over 100 years in prison for essentially repasting a publicly available link that contained publicly available data “that he was researching in his capacity as a journalist,” according to his lawyer.

Two principles have formed the core of Wikileaks’ operative mores since its formation: uncensored information and a rigorous commitment to protect the anonymity of the whistleblowers who provide that information. Unsurprisingly, authoritarian governments, criminal corporate enterprises and their toadies just hate these two prongs of potential exposure – full disclosure of primary source material and protection of the sources of that information.
The article mentions the central importance of anonymity several more times. This sentence leapt out at me:
Anonymity undermines managed dissent, and we live in an age of managed dissent.
From the State's perspective, anonymity is deeply troubling. Threats to the State's control can come from anywhere; when the State is unable to identify the sources of leaks, it is much more difficult to strengthen the State's protections. What -- and whom -- does the State need to protect itself from? The State doesn't know.

Anonymity is also critical in terms of the questions of method I've raised. When we don't know the identity of a leaker, it is impossible to make the resulting story(ies) about the personalities of the players. Our sole focus must be on the content of the leaks, regardless of the source. And in fact, this is ideally how we should evaluate all information: on its own merits, on the strength of the arguments offered, regardless of the person involved. When we don't even know the person involved, most people's temptation to focus on comparatively trivial matters is removed at the outset.

With these factors in mind, it is instructive to consider the Snowden stories from an additional perspective, and to go back to close to the beginning. One question immediately comes to mind: Why, exactly, do we know Edward Snowden's identity? I will admit (somewhat to my chagrin) that I failed to analyze this question with the care it demands; I will now attempt to rectify what I consider an error of some consequence. But as the NSA stories first appeared, I experienced what I know many others experienced. I was filled with admiration and gratitude for the enormous risks Snowden had chosen to run. Since it was unarguable that Snowden had put his life on the line, I was strongly disinclined to examine his behavior in a serious way. And I must emphasize even now that I do not engage in this discussion to raise questions about Snowden's character or about him personally. As I hope will be clear, my major concern is Snowden's self-identification with regard to the NSA stories themselves and how they are being offered to us. (I will also acknowledge that the analysis that follows does contain implications concerning Snowden's character, but for the most part, I will leave the reader to draw what conclusions he will on his own.)

Snowden explained why he identified himself in his first interview with Glenn Greenwald:
Greenwald: "One of the extraordinary parts about this episode is usually whistleblowers do what they do anonymously and take steps to remain anonymous for as long as they can, which they hope often is forever. You on the other hand have decided to do the opposite, which is to declare yourself openly as the person behind these disclosures. Why did you choose to do that?"

Snowden: "I think that the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures that are outside of the democratic model. When you are subverting the power of government that's a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy and if you do that in secret consistently as the government does when it wants to benefit from a secret action that it took, it'll kind of give its officials a mandate to go, 'Hey tell the press about this thing and that thing so the public is on our side.' But they rarely, if ever, do that when an abuse occurs. That falls to individual citizens but they're typically maligned. It becomes a thing of 'These people are against the country. They're against the government' but I'm not."

"I'm no different from anybody else. I don't have special skills. I'm just another guy who sits there day to day in the office, watches what's happening and goes, 'This is something that's not our place to decide, the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.' And I'm willing to go on the record to defend the authenticity of them and say, 'I didn't change these, I didn't modify the story. This is the truth; this is what's happening. You should decide whether we need to be doing this.'"
Other statements from Snowden confirm these as the primary reasons that led him to come forward.

Snowden contends that "the public is owed an explanation of the motivations behind the people who make these disclosures." Why? In terms of the documents' contents, the motives of a particular leaker are entirely irrelevant. Snowden's motives don't alter what the documents say, or the programs they describe. Is Snowden suggesting that we should view the documents in light of his own character? That appears to be the implication. But as I suggested above, this is absolutely the wrong way to approach any information. The information is what it is; the identity of the person offering it should be of no concern to us at all. (There are rare exceptions to this rule, but none are relevant here.)

Snowden says that leaks like his "subvert[] the power of government," and "that's a fundamentally dangerous thing to democracy." He worries that people might conclude he's "against the government," so he identified himself in part to assure everyone that he's not "against the government." In other words: he doesn't wish to threaten the State in any serious way. Even though he himself thinks that the State's surveillance powers threaten liberty and privacy, he is not committed to eliminating that threat. He wants "the public" to "decide whether we need to be doing this." It thus appears that if "the public" approves total surveillance by the State, that outcome would be satisfactory to him in the most important sense (and despite the fact that he himself would choose differently). Any outcome would be all right, as long as "democracy" approves it after being informed of the relevant facts.

Snowden identified himself for an additional reason: if he insisted on personal anonymity, he is concerned that the State might treat that as a sanction for the State's own secrecy practices. We might observe that the State hardly needs encouragement from Snowden (or anyone else) for its insistence on as much secrecy as it can get away with. We might also observe that a lone individual who incurs the wrath of the State -- especially a State which proclaims its "right" to murder anyone it chooses, whenever it wishes -- is hardly on equal footing with the State itself. (Do I actually need to say this? Apparently, I do.) No reasonable person could question Snowden's desire to protect himself as fully as possible from the murderous anger of the State. And Snowden himself indicates that he's well aware that the State might attempt to kill him. With regard to his personal safety, we should also note this passage from a Guardian article that accompanied that first interview:
The Guardian, after several days of interviews, is revealing his identity at his request. From the moment he decided to disclose numerous top-secret documents to the public, he was determined not to opt for the protection of anonymity. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong," he said.
I obviously agree with Snowden that he's "done nothing wrong." And it's lovely that he himself believes that -- but, honestly, what does his own conviction on this point (or mine, or yours) have to do with anything? Most importantly, what does it have to do with the State's view of him, and with what the State is prepared to do about its own view? Nothing, nothing at all.

I am not aware of any additional arguments Snowden has offered for identifying himself. As I indicated, Snowden has repeated these arguments in different forms, but the arguments are the same. (If you know of additional arguments he's made on this point, please let me know, although I strongly doubt they will alter my conclusions.) The reasons he offers for identifying himself are notably weak tea: they are irrelevant, or wrong, or wildly misplaced. At best, we can only say that Snowden is extremely naive. Despite his very strong criticisms of the State's surveillance activities, he seems to have a curiously sanitized view of the State with which he is contending. He seeks to assure the State that his disclosures don't represent a serious threat to State power, or at a minimum that he hopes they will not. In effect, he's hoping his disclosures will lead all of us, including the powerful ruling class, to say: "We need to talk."

Among my other reactions, I find all this extraordinarily puzzling. It becomes even more puzzling when we consider Snowden's repeated insistence that he doesn't want to be "the story" himself. If he had remained anonymous, he couldn't be the story. So he made himself a key element of the story by identifying himself when he didn't need to, and for reasons which are singularly unconvincing. And remember that he identified himself while he was still in Hong Kong. The result was that he was suddenly in the midst of a terribly dangerous situation. He only managed to get out of Hong Kong with great difficulty, and then his efforts to find asylum were hugely complicated by the fact that his identity was known throughout the world. (If we accept the fact that Snowden himself was very naive about the dangers he faced, there surely must have been others -- for instance, the all-knowing journalists with whom he was interacting -- who appreciated those dangers, or should have. Couldn't they at least have convinced him to withhold his identity until after he was in a country that had granted him even temporary asylum?)

Snowden's self-identification becomes somewhat less puzzling when we look at another element that was introduced in the story at the same time: the contrast with Chelsea Manning and WikiLeaks. From that same early Guardian article:
Snowden said that he admires both Ellsberg and Manning, but argues that there is one important distinction between himself and the army private, whose trial coincidentally began the week Snowden's leaks began to make news.

"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."

He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
Look carefully at the second and third paragraphs in that excerpt. Note the huge contradiction they contain. On one hand, Snowden claims that he "carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest" -- while the story goes on to state (and this is a claim that has been repeated numerous times) that he chose "to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed."

If, in fact, Snowden "carefully evaluated every single document" he disclosed, and determined that "each was legitimately in the public interest," why do these trusted journalists have to determine "what should be public" all over again? (We might conclude that the involved parties simply believe that you can never have too many filters. Given the way in which the NSA stories are being ever more fitfully delivered to us, I wouldn't be disposed to argue with that view.) This element of the story never made any sense. But if you disbelieve Snowden's claim that he "carefully evaluated every single document," the mystery vanishes -- and Tarzie recently demonstrated that Snowden's claim cannot be true.

I began by describing the genuinely radical methodology employed by WikiLeaks. Just how radical that methodology is, was reflected in the title of one of my WikiLeaks essays from three years ago: "A World without Obedience or Authority: Toward a Life of One's Own, and a Real Revolution." The promise that WikiLeaks held out is one that the custodians of the Snowden leak strongly reject. Greenwald is at pains to constantly reiterate his admiration for WikiLeaks and Manning, but the manner in which he markets the NSA stories contradicts that claimed admiration at the most fundamental level. Beginning with that early Guardian article, Greenwald & Co. repeatedly emphasize that Snowden and the superlatively wise journalists overseeing the NSA stories are "responsible," and "careful," that they make certain never to endanger anyone or anything. They're not "against the government," and they certainly do not wish to threaten it in any serious manner. They want a "debate," and they want "reform." But as I've noted, "reform" of what I term the Death State is an exercise in unbridled, unreflective, and decidedly unserious fantasy. When he speaks of his and his compatriots' "responsibility" and "care" in recent days, Greenwald doesn't mention WikiLeaks or Manning by name -- but he doesn't need to. There is only one other leak story in the past few years that equals (and exceeds, in my view) the NSA stories, and everyone knows what it is.

The unavoidable implication of the way the NSA stories are marketed is that the NSA stories represent "good" leaking, while WikiLeaks represents "bad" leaking. Greenwald & Co. are "responsible," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are "careful," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are superbly protective of everyone on the planet, including the murderous ruling class, while WikiLeaks endangers every constituted authority and everyone who exercises destructive political power. And the fact that we know who Snowden is and was offers an additional benefit. From that same Guardian story, one more time:
He has had "a very comfortable life" that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves.
A "good" whistleblower with a conscience that works overtime (even on behalf of those who would kill you in an instant, just for being there), who gave up big bucks -- and even gave up a hot babe with whom he cavorted on Hawaii's beautiful beaches. At sunset, no doubt.

The movie writes itself, doesn't it? It was all there, right from the beginning. We should have seen it:
For more than a week, Hollywood has been exploring what could be one of the most difficult nonfiction projects it has ever tried: a proposed film based on the journalist Glenn Greenwald’s planned book about Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive whistle-blower.

As of late Friday, it was not clear that any studio had secured a deal. But 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures Entertainment and the cable television powerhouse HBO were among potential buyers that had considered the project, according to several people who were briefed on it, but spoke on condition of anonymity because of confidentiality strictures

Mr. Greenwald’s planned book, which is based on his close contact with Mr. Snowden and promises fresh revelations about government and corporate intelligence-gathering, is set for publication next March by Macmillan’s Metropolitan Books imprint.
(The Times article is via Tarzie, who has thankfully been all over numerous aspects of this story.)

I don't want to be misunderstood. I am obviously not suggesting that the NSA stories were designed from the outset with the goal of marketing what is potentially a blockbuster film to Hollywood. That would be ridiculously trivial, and hopelessly beside the point. What I am arguing is what I regard as far worse. The self-appointed authorities who sporadically deliver the NSA stories to us, "carefully" and "responsibly" selected, sanitized, and redacted, have no quarrel with obedience or authority in the manner WikiLeaks does, more's the pity. They obviously have no such quarrel, for they act as authorities themselves, and they do this with regard to what might have been a game-changer if handled in a fundamentally different way. But their gatekeeping has served and continues to serve to defang these stories of any meaningful danger to authority they might have had, just as their insistence on their own "responsibility" and "care" makes the NSA stories thoroughly "respectable" -- and thoroughly safe. They don't want to seriously threaten anything at all, much less overthrow it. They want a "debate," after which you are free to choose tyrannical, murderous rule, if that's what you want.

The article about The Fifth Estate excerpted above makes clear how Hollywood will treat anyone who represents a genuine threat: he will be subject to character assassination, his motives and character will be despoiled, and the crucial significance of the methodology he championed will be ignored. That article offers this further observation:
While the The Fifth Estate script includes a couple of toss-away bromides about Wikileaks’ commitment to the anonymity of its whistle-blowing information providers, its real thrust is to boost the fabricated ‘common sense’ notion that some information just isn’t ready for prime time consumption, ergo we should rely on ‘responsible’ outlets like The New York Times to parse the data for us.
To which we can add, "responsible" outlets like The Guardian.

But we have a noble, self-sacrificing hero, some danger but not too much, and even Hawaiian beaches. It's all so respectable and safe that I'm sure Tom Hanks will be happy to star (Jennifer Lawrence will have a delicious cameo as Snowden's girlfriend), and Steven Spielberg will be thrilled to direct. Fabulous. And all the leading real-life characters are well-prepared and well-practiced for their interviews. We might say they're ready for their close-ups. What a fucking great country.

It's enough to make you weep, isn't it? Yes, I thought it might.

October 14, 2013

When Whistleblowing Is Obedience and Tribute to the State

Glenn Greenwald opens his latest column for The Guardian with this: "Like many people, I've spent years writing and speaking about the lethal power-subservient pathologies plaguing establishment journalism in the west." He goes on to discuss an article by Chris Blackhurst, a career journalist who had been the editor of The Independent until a few months ago. Greenwald sets forth the headline for Blackhurst's piece: "Edward Snowden's secrets may be dangerous. I would not have published them. If MI5 warns that this is not in the public interest who am I to disbelieve them?" Then Greenwald writes:
In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn't publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets.
Four months ago, when the NSA-surveillance stories had just begun to be published, I wrote a piece setting forth my strenuous objections to the methodology employed by Greenwald (and by the other journalists involved): "Fed Up with All the Bullshit." At the outset of my article, I noted Greenwald's explanation for that methodology:
“We’re not engaged in a mindless, indiscriminate document dump, and our source didn’t want us to be,” said Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian writer, in an email to BuzzFeed Saturday. “We’re engaged in the standard journalistic assessment of whether the public value to publication outweighs any harms." ...

“We’re applying the standard judgment test that journalists apply every day: first, is it newsworthy and relevant, ie, is there public interest in knowing this?” Greenwald told BuzzFeed. “If so: is there genuine harm that comes from publication? And if there is harm, does the public value outweigh/justify the harm?"
In "Fed Up with All the Bullshit" and in an earlier post I "discussed what ought to be a disturbing similarity between the justifications for concealment employed by Snowden's chosen journalists and the State's justifications for keeping massive amounts of information from the public. In both cases, the 'authorities' rely on factors and standards that are never specifically defined, on the basis of which they engage in some kind of unexplained 'weighing' process, all to decide whether to reveal or conceal the information in question."

What has transpired in the four months since I wrote that compels the following conclusion: Greenwald, together with the other journalists to whom he has granted access to the Snowden documents and who abide by his ground rules, is engaged in precisely the same exercise of power that the State employs. Yet Greenwald continues to vehemently condemn the State's exercise of such power, just as he condemns those who obey the State's edicts, while he and his enthusiastic fans view his identical exercise of power in glowing terms, offering endless praise for the "bravery," "courage" and "independence" demonstrated by those who bring us these carefully selected, sanitized, edited, and redacted tidbits from the documentation of the State's actions and crimes.

It thus appears that what is alarming, and even heinous, when committed by the State mysteriously becomes imbued with profound nobility of spirit and boundless courage when committed by self-selected individuals. The modes of behavior in both cases are identical; the sole difference lies in the identities of the actors involved. I could point to historical examples of "revolutionaries" who prove to be far bloodier and more destructive than the "authorities" they replace once the revolutionaries themselves accede to power. That is far from a minor point, and it underscores the great danger of endorsing the exercise of power if only it is utilized by those of whom one "approves." That, in turn, highlights the nature of my objection, which is to the exercise of power itself in this manner. Or, as I put it in the earlier post: "Bullshit, all of it. These are the dishonest, insulting arguments of power used to justify itself. To hell with it."

Some questioning of Greenwald & Co.'s methods is now being offered, but not nearly enough. The endless plaudits continually offered to Greenwald & Co. serve to emphasize a point I've argued for years, although we hardly needed further evidence for the proposition: most people do not object to power itself. Most people are enormously comfortable with power, and they are more than happy to obey the dictates of those in positions of authority. Their only requirement is that power be exercised by those they approve and view favorably. It should not be necessary to state explicitly a logically compelled further point. But, since the minds of so many "dissenters" and "radicals" seem to be on extended vacation, it is advisable to set it out: You cannot successfully challenge an enemy by adopting his methods. When you adopt the enemy's methods, you no longer challenge him: you become him. (This is a variant of a principle I identified long ago: "When you argue within the framework and using the terms selected by your opponent, you will always lose in the end. Even if you make a stronger case about one particular issue, your opponent still wins the larger battle -- because you have permitted the underlying assumptions and the general perspective to remain unchallenged.")

In Greenwald's case, the horrifying ironies parade before us in endless procession. For years, Greenwald has furiously railed against authoritarians and their followers, and against the unchallenged exercise of power. Yet in the last month or so, whenever Greenwald himself is seriously challenged -- and when he deigns to reply -- he exhibits all the traits of those he has mercilessly condemned. As I wrote to a friend just yesterday: "I was never certain what [Greenwald] genuinely believed, as distinct from what he said he believed for marketing purposes. Since he himself is now openly the overbearing, pretentious, condescending, bullying, authoritarian shithead he always condemned, it rather puts his entire public persona in question."

There's some plain speaking for you. I offer it in large part because I'm sick to death of the fawning, unquestioning adulation being offered in place of analysis. I also offer it because it's true. Is anyone capable of thinking about the NSA stories and the way in which they are being offered in a serious, critical manner?

Tarzie is: see here, here and here, and follow the links for much more. As further evidence for my harsh judgment, I also direct you to several Greenwald tweets. I'm not on Twitter myself and have no plans to be. But I occasionally follow a few discussions that I find of interest. Here's one Greenwald tweet in response to questioning: "Which specific documents should be released that haven't been? Are there any?" If you read the subsequent tweets (at the same link), you'll read this from Greenwald: "So if you can't even say that there's been a single doc we improperly withheld, what's your criticism?" This is idiotically nonsensical. Moreover, Greenwald himself has to know it's idiotically nonsensical. How on earth can an outsider identify "specific documents" that "should be released," when no outsider has any idea what Snowden turned over? Greenwald has repeatedly made clear what he thinks of this kind of argument when it is offered by others. For example: "You can't prove that Iraq doesn't have WMD, so ... WAR!!!" Or: "You can't prove that Iran won't have nuclear weapons at some point and/or be a threat to the U.S. for some unspecified reason, so ... WAR!!!" Greenwald is the one with unfettered access to the documents, and he's the one who will not explain his method for releasing them (or, for the most part, not releasing them) except in the vaguest, ultimately meaningless terms. But somehow it is the questioner's fault for being unable to identify what is inherently impossible for him to identify.

Or try this tweet: "There are some people for whom a sense of failure is a vital part of their worldview & need it." According to Greenwald, if we fail to acknowledge and offer appropriate gratitude for his changing the world, it's because of a character or psychological failure on our part. He resorts to this tactic with distressing regularity; for his efforts, Tarzie was rewarded with a veritable bouquet of psychological and characterological abnormalities. Moreover -- and this is the far more important point -- Greenwald isn't changing the world. (Obviously, you must take that with many grains of salt; it's only my overpowering feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and utter intellectual impotence that make me entertain such revolting ideas.)

Here's still another Greenwald tweet: "Despite the lies of some, I never once - never - said that a single doc was withheld because of 'national security'" But as a followup tweet from his questioner makes clear, "national security" was used merely to summarize one of Greenwald's deliberately vague and non-specific grounds for continuing to withhold documents (as, not coincidentally, the State prefers). And it is Greenwald who first introduced the notion of "harm" into the formula for determining which documents to release or withhold, and it is Greenwald who talks of not wanting to identify "covert agents" and the like. What is all that, if not "national security"? Ah, but it's "national security" as determined by Greenwald, and not by the State -- so that's okey dokey. And, through a secret alchemical process, "national security" isn't "national security" when Greenwald references questions of "national security," at least in this particular context. (This is another tactic Greenwald favors: unequivocally stating that "A is terrible," and then, when questioned several minutes or a day later, emphatically declaring: "I never said A is terrible! You completely misunderstood me!" Or even: "You're lying!" All of which calls to mind:
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."
Remember: we're talking about power.)

And on and on it goes. And all this is from one exchange that I happened to see; I've read enough references to similar Twitter conversations and other exchanges to know that Greenwald "argues" in this manner very frequently whenever his methods are challenged. The "arguments" that he offers are all ones that Greenwald has ridiculed and criticized at length when they were offered by others. One of the lessons we can draw is the uniformity of the intellectual corruptions that occur when anyone is placed in a position of power -- and when he seeks to protect that power, and when he enjoys its exercise. We should note that these kinds of responses to serious questioning are those of someone who can be described as an authoritarian bully (among other terms). As I said, the ironies are numerous, and awful.

And there can be no doubt that Greenwald is enjoying his power over the dissemination of the Snowden documents, and that he keenly appreciates the many values that power confers on him. Not least of those values are the marketing advantages that he seeks to exploit. And that's what a lot of this is about: marketing. This is already longer than I had anticipated, so I'll discuss the marketing aspects next time.