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!

March 04, 2014

Checking In

My apologies to those people who have been concerned about me, although any concern you may have felt was unfortunately not misplaced. I've been in horrible shape for multiple reasons. I'm a little better, but not a whole lot. The awful flu/bronchitis/whatever that I had, and that took three weeks to work through my system, keeps threatening to come back. So I frequently retreat to my bed and sleep for hours on end. This has the regrettable result of cutting down considerably on my ability to be productive in terms of writing, and to do much of anything else.

As an extra added bonus, I and several other people in my building have been without hot water since late Saturday afternoon. We still don't have any as of Tuesday morning. The lack of hot water followed Saturday's torrential rainstorm by a few hours. It turns out -- after I called the gas company (after calling the manager), because I thought I smelled gas and became very worried about what might be happening -- that the basement was flooded. That resulted in some of the pilot lights going out, but they did determine that there isn't a gas leak that need concern us (although the gas guy told me that my senses weren't deceiving me, and I probably did smell gas at one point). Anyway, there still isn't any hot water!!! Not remotely happy.

All my immense gratitude to those who responded so kindly to my plea for help. And extra thanks to Chris Floyd, Tarzie and Tom Knapp, who urged their readers to help out if they could. (If others did the same, special thanks to you as well, and I'm sorry for not mentioning you by name.) I'm slowly working my way through email, as well as sending thank you notes. If I haven't gotten to you yet, I will do so in the fairly near future. I'm still functioning at a very low level, so it takes me quite a while to get anything done.

And I am working on a new piece, which I hope to complete toward the end of the week. I think I'll keep the subject a secret for now, in part because the shape and emphasis of the post are still developing and changing in my mind. Even though the subject is a very serious one, I hope to have some fun with it.

Because of people's generosity, I was able to order a new computer, which arrived yesterday. It's not great, but it does everything I need, and it was cheap. I still haven't unpacked it. I continue to be out of it to an extent that makes it very difficult to deal with anything new, even when it's a good thing. So I'll enjoy the new computer in a day or two, when I hopefully feel a bit stronger and can think a little better.

Many thanks again. Hope to be back soon.

(I will mention, but only glancingly, that I'm in the usual position after paying first of the month bills, that is, I only have a few hundred dollars to my name. But I'll save my deeply begging donation post for after I publish a new post or three. Getting the new computer and paying the basic bills has reduced what little cushion had been provided to very little. But I had to get the new computer, since this backup makes me incredibly nervous. I fear it will breathe its last at any moment, but I hope not for another few days. In the meantime, if that ten dollars is burning a hole in your pocket, the cats and I could put it to excellent use. The cats continue to be my lifesaver. I can't imagine how I'd survive all this without them.)