Insubordination and the surveillance state

by Chris Bertram on June 13, 2013

Responding to concern about PRISM and the issue of whether intelligence collaboration with the US enabled British agencies to circumvent legal restrictions, Foreign Secretary William Hague told us that “law-abiding citizens” have nothing to fear. Not only do I not wish to be the kind of person Hague thinks of as “law abiding”, more generally it is social movements that willfully break the law that are most likely to bring about change and to threaten established power and privilege. And it is just such movements, and their leaders, who are at risk from pervasive state surveillance of our communications.

The social democratic model of social change has it otherwise, of course. We line up obediently behind Miliband (or Obama, or Hollande) and, having persuaded enough of our fellow citizens to vote for a programme of progressive reform, our social-democrats then enact that very programme. That’s democracy. Except that it very rarely happens like that. What actually happens is that hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of ordinary men and women demonstrate, by their acts of lawbreaking, disobedience, even violence, that there are injustices up with which they will no longer put (I’m channelling James C. Scott here). Neither the US civil rights movement of the 1960s nor the Gezi Park protestors of today are willing just to wait for the next election and hope it all turns out right: rather they want to move the window of political possibility, to make some injustices impossible and to make some concessions inevitable. (And in our “post-democratic” age, the myriad lobbyists and corporate interests aren’t waiting either. Typically they are trying to box in all elected governments to programmes of neoliberal “structural reform”.)

So here’s the worry. Just as the FBI tried to discredit Martin Luther King, so government agencies, equipped with all the latest surveillance techniques, will attempt to damage lawbreakers in pursuit of social justice. There’s nothing new about this, just the tools to do so are far more powerful.

An eloquent community organizer? Which websites did he visit? Or, failing that, which websites did his close associates and family members visit?

An environmental activist? How come she was searching for guidance on mental health issues? Did she have an abortion? Do something that can be portrayed as less than green?

So it goes.

And once the sliming facts, the family secrets, the personal insecurities are discreetly put out there by a government agency, they can be deployed and recycled via sympathetic journalists and blogs and repeated ad nauseam on Facebook and Twitter.

And soon those who would stand up against injustice know about the price they might pay. Perhaps their employer is persuaded to let them go? Perhaps their children suffer in some way? (Remember, after 1968, the Stalinists restored order in Czechoslovakia not with overtly violent repression but mainly with “soft” threats of just this kind.) So people stay silent, conform, adapt to the facts of power. Meanwhile, on the other side, the lobbyists and corporate interests grind away at democratic politicians, with much less countervailing force.

This potential disabling of insubordination strikes me as the real worry here, rather than concerns about “privacy” in and of itself. I guess that’s unlikely to worry journalists like Joshua Micah Marshall who “basically identify with the country and the state” and think of the state as “something you fundamentally believe in, identify with, think is working on your behalf.” For such people, the struggle against injustice is – perhaps with “notably rare exceptions” – something in the past.

{ 138 comments }

1

Neville Morley 06.13.13 at 10:47 am

There’s an interesting lead piece on this in Die Zeit this morning: roughly paraphrased, of course the USA isn’t a Super-Stasi-State, constantly monitoring and investigating all its citizens – it’s something much subtler. The apparatus of surveillance is directed against minorities that are for whatever reason considered to be suspicions, but can be expanded or redirected at a moment’s notice, against anyone.

Given what we know about the historical practices of western security agencies in identifying potential threats and subversives, it’s not hard to see that is is liable to be used against any sort of non-conformist social or political movement.

2

john c. halasz 06.13.13 at 12:20 pm

Who needs Andrew F.? We’ve already got Josh Marshall.

3

Rich Puchalsky 06.13.13 at 12:40 pm

Yeah, Andrew F. is harmless in comparison. Josh Marshall is arguing himself into authoritarianism through easy steps, as he modifies his assumptions to fit his new status. In another decade, he’ll be Broder.

Josh Marshall, from linked article: “The fact that what he’s doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone doubts that narrow point. But he’s not just opening the thing up for debate. He’s taking it upon himself to make certain things no longer possible, or much harder to do. To me that’s a betrayal. I think it’s easy to exaggerate how much damage these disclosures cause. But I don’t buy that there are no consequences. And it goes to the point I was making in an earlier post. Who gets to decide? The totality of the officeholders who’ve been elected democratically – for better or worse – to make these decisions? Or Edward Snowden, some young guy I’ve never heard of before who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with and is now seeking refuge abroad for breaking the law?”

What if journalism was illegal? Marshall can write with a straight face that it’s OK for journalists to pursue leaks even though it’s not OK for leakers to leak them — it’s because he’s a journalist. There really isn’t any distinction that he makes other than that. Who gets to decide? The totality of officeholders who’ve been elected democratically? Or one guy with a Web site who espouses a political philosophy I don’t agree with? But Josh is the guy with a Web site, so of course his own rules don’t apply to him. And from that he justifies the whole “It’s a really important part of this to figure out whether Snowden is a good person or not, because naturally that affects everything that we think about this” position that he takes. He’s a celebrity journalist, so of course celebrity is important!

4

William Timberman 06.13.13 at 1:06 pm

Two words: oppo research. We’re about to find out exactly, precisely, why this shouldn’t be the first principle of effective governance, let alone anything resembling a functional civil society, no matter how delighted the best and brightest are with their new toys. Character assassination may be the world’s second oldest profession, but its complete industrialization is relatively new, and the automated show trials, disappearances and signature strikes supposedly justified by it are newer still. The fact that the full range of these abominations is currently restricted to foreigners shouldn’t comfort anyone who realizes just how easy it is for the forces of order to turn his own sweet self into a foreigner.

To make a long story short, we don’t have the Stasi yet, but we have far better tools than the Stasi did, and little sign of a conscience in our elected and unelected officials which would ultimately prohibit their use on anyone who proves troublesome. Let’s hope we don’t have to follow this thread all the way to its obvious end.

5

Barry 06.13.13 at 1:35 pm

” Marshall can write with a straight face that it’s OK for journalists to pursue leaks even though it’s not OK for leakers to leak them ” Every so often the face of ‘the Establishment’ shows clearly through the noise and haze of day-to-day life; this is one of them. We see a widespread outcry about the Evils of Leaking, from people who don’t have a problem with leaks approved by one of the elite factions in government.

“To make a long story short, we don’t have the Stasi yet, but we have far better tools than the Stasi did, and little sign of a conscience in our elected and unelected officials which would ultimately prohibit their use on anyone who proves troublesome. Let’s hope we don’t have to follow this thread all the way to its obvious end.”

People forget that a secret police is first and foremost a bureaucracy. For example, East Germany employed some ridiculous percentage of the labor force in full-time Stasi jobs (*not* counting informers). We have now a potential analogous to industrialization and mass production.

6

pjm 06.13.13 at 1:45 pm

No matter how much snark is deserved by social dems, both they and their critics often seem to aggregate all representative democracy when in fact actually existing systems differ qualitatively in their consonance with majoritarian principles and potential for both popular mobilization and, conversely, authoritarian failure modes.
The US, UK and France are all examples (cited by Chris) of systems with anti-democratic structural features. There is a tendency to believe that these these features are not so determinative and that reforming them is tinkering at the margins. Well maybe, but at a minimum, there is no “long game” without paying attention to the margins.

7

Graham Marsden 06.13.13 at 1:51 pm

“Foreign Secretary William Hague told us than “law-abiding citizens” have nothing to fear”

That sort of statement, like the dreadful “if you have nothing to hide…” reverses the centuries old principle of Presumed Innocent Unless Proven Guilty.

What Hague and all those like him are saying is that the State has the right to check up on *everyone* to make sure that they are good little “law abiding citizens” and that we should not object to the security services etc nosing our private affairs, monitoring our communications and peeping in through our windows since “we should have nothing to hide”.

Mr Hague, if you think that taking a leaf out of the books of the Stasi, KGB and every other organ of state repression is the way to make us all “safer” and protect our liberties from the terrorists who want to take them away, you’ve already done their job for them!

8

Walt 06.13.13 at 1:54 pm

I don’t agree with Andrew F’s argument, but at least I understand it. I don’t even understand what Marshall is trying to say.

9

Coulter 06.13.13 at 1:57 pm

At least Assad doesn’t have the ability to monitor global e-mail traffic … killing 90k+ citizens is bad enough.

10

Phil 06.13.13 at 2:22 pm

I’m channelling James C. Scott here

I could give you chapter and verse to the same effect from Charles Tilly and Sidney Tarrow, no beardie anthropologists they. Come to that, has Hague even heard of Emily Wilding Davison? Hellishly depressing stuff.

11

Barry 06.13.13 at 2:58 pm

Walt 06.13.13 at 1:54 pm

” I don’t agree with Andrew F’s argument, but at least I understand it. I don’t even understand what Marshall is trying to say.”

‘I’m a good journalist; I don’t support the Evul Leakers; I can be trusted by the Establishment’.

12

politicalfootball 06.13.13 at 3:09 pm

In a better world, I’d argue that Marshall is performing a service by accurately describing the two sides of the debate and giving those who oppose him their proper due. Of course, in a better world, Marshall would represent the rightward edge of elite opinion.

Contra Walt, I thought his piece was entirely clear – though I was certainly taken aback by the way that Marshall identifies himself with the nastier elements of the U.S. political establishment. I wonder if he is consciously abandoning his former worldview in favor of Broderist rationalization. If so, he’s certainly right that, as long as he chooses sides carefully, he need not worry that he and his cohort will be subject to persecution.

13

ai 06.13.13 at 3:30 pm

“So here’s the worry. Just as the FBI tried to discredit Martin Luther King, so government agencies, equipped with all the latest surveillance techniques, will attempt to damage lawbreakers in pursuit of social justice. There’s nothing new about this, just the tools to do so are far more powerful.”

Will Potter has done much coverage of the intensified targetting of enviromental and animal rights activists: http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/ . Since animal rights is often completely left out of much progressive academic political thought and discussion (cough *crooked timber* cough) those developments have not received the attention they deserve. First they came for the vegans…

14

Wonks Anonymous 06.13.13 at 3:48 pm

I think you’re giving social democracies short shrift. There seem to be a number of countries in northern europe which are reasonably ok and seem to have a tradition of law-abidingness. It could be that things are nice enough that people don’t need to break the law, but the hypothesis that conflict can just lead to a low-trust equilibrium seems at least as plausible as the Acemoglu-Robinson fight-for-your-rights-in-the-street hypothesis.

15

SamChevre 06.13.13 at 3:52 pm

This potential disabling of insubordination strikes me as the real worry here

It’s probably worth noting that traditionalist insubordination has been disabled without even much surveillance. I agree that surveillance can disable insubordination evven more, but hostile environment harassment law, tax benefits that are only available to groups who act in politically-approved ways(the Bob Jones/Hillsdale family of cases), and so on have crippled the traditionalist Right’s ability to have any institutions.

16

Rich Puchalsky 06.13.13 at 3:56 pm

What Josh Marshall is saying expresses a particular theory that I’ve argued for here before — with quite a bit of disagreement from e.g. dd and Henry — that what intelligent people believe is mostly just a function of their job situation. He’s quite capable of coming up with some rationalization for why it’s bad if Snowden does it but good if he does it. But all it means is that Josh Marshall isn’t someone blogging from the margin any more. Now people are starting to listen to him. So of course he’s adjusting his beliefs to match his new status.

Are the people here better? Well, have they ever been tempted to be worse? They’re mostly academics and so on, and have their own occupational deformities of thought, in which the highest value is the ability to discuss civilly in the public sphere, and they just can’t understand anything different. Or with dd, if it’s possible to be on the left and do what he does, he does that, but only within the confines of the habits of thought of what he does.

Which is to say that allowing a system to exist creates the people for it. If we have a data system that collects data on everyone, and of course have to hire a lot of people to run it, of course those people adopt the values of the work that pays for their daily bread. Only a rare few find themselves more and more in conflict with the system until they eject themselves from it, as Snowden did. We can’t really blame Marshall for doing what 99% of people do.

17

Sandwichman 06.13.13 at 4:19 pm

“On the other hand… Now, in practice, there are a million shades of grey… But it comes down to this… Let me put my cards on the table… At the end of the day… Speaking for myself… “

After the torrent of throat-clearing cliches Mr. Marshall employs, it would be a wonder if he has any phlegm left. Such is not the voice of someone taking a principled stand. It is the equivocation of a toad-swallower trying to have it both ways. It the “herd of independent minds” pose of a brown-nosing sycophant wanting to be regarded for his high principles.

18

christian_h 06.13.13 at 4:33 pm

… and Sandwichman wins the thread.

19

Bruce Wilder 06.13.13 at 4:55 pm

JM: “The fact that what he’s doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone doubts that narrow point.”

I doubt it.

The law can be written as a double-bind, and often is, since the purpose is domination, as well as arbitration. When riot police come to beat up the protestors, some of the protestors are surprised. Did they think this is a democracy and the police work for the people? Then, why were they protesting?

There’s a lot to Rich’s interpretation of JM, as role-play: what you think depends on where you sit. But, I think there may be a deeper, broader foundation, of wanting to believe in the nation-state as good parent.

For so many people, the whole “foreigners” thing is a tip-off. The Constitution respects the rights of persons, all the attempts to interpret those protections for autonomy as privileges of “citizens” or “white Americans” notwithstanding. I’m with Timberman on this: the time is not far off, when all but a tiny minority floating at the top, will say together, “we are all foreigners now”.

20

Consumatopia 06.13.13 at 5:16 pm

It makes no sense to “identify with the country and the state”, because in this instance we’re talking about the state keeping secrets FROM the country. We can’t democratically consent to the government’s actions if we don’t know what we’re consenting to.

21

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 5:18 pm

Yes (#18)

“Are the people here better? Well, have they ever been tempted to be worse? They’re mostly academics and so on, and have their own occupational deformities of thought, in which the highest value is the ability to discuss civilly in the public sphere, and they just can’t understand anything different. ” (Rich Puchalsky, #16)

Most likely both. What I find most disconcerting about “civil discussion in the public sphere,” and CT threads serve as an example par excellence, is the absence of moral outrage.

But perhaps this comes part & parcel with being an academic, and a liberal to boot. Which also explains the next-to nonexistent impact of our intelligentsia on the affairs of the state.

22

Substance McGravitas 06.13.13 at 5:24 pm

It’s not going to have to be official policy to go after people (although it probably will be). If my political sympathies lie with X group and I know stuff about Y opponent the temptation to leak it is going to be enormous. Who’s going to have access to the data? Lots and lots of people.

23

Bruce Wilder 06.13.13 at 5:27 pm

“the absence of moral outrage”

!!?! Sometimes, there’s little else on the political threads. And, to me, that helps a bit to explain the “next-to nonexistent impact of our intelligentsia on the affairs of the state.”

24

lupita 06.13.13 at 5:39 pm

This potential disabling of insubordination strikes me as the real worry here, rather than concerns about “privacy” in and of itself.

Indeed. And yet, are there any feelings of insubordination to disable in Great Britain regarding the US placing itself in charge of global communications, blocking talks about international governance, to a system built were communications necessarily pass through servers in US or European territory, and the absolute primacy of US tech giants, other than wanting a bigger slice of the pie?

More that insubordination, Brits need to practice their feelings of gratitude for, eventually, this particular giant vampire squid will be slain by the likes of China, Russia, Brazil, India… that is, foreigners and their insubordination towards Western hegemony. At this point, worrying about the privacy of individuals and the national security or internal governance of individual countries, including oneself and one’s own, is missing the point. Like finance, communications is now a global issue that cannot be made to serve us all by centering exclusively on how it affects individual persons or nations.

25

Consumatopia 06.13.13 at 5:40 pm

re:we’re all foreigners now, presumably other countries will eventually catch up with our surveillance capabilities, and to them, of course, Americans will be foreigners.

26

Random Lurker 06.13.13 at 5:48 pm

“more generally it is social movements that willfully break the law that are most likely to bring about change and to threaten established power and privilege. And it is just such movements, and their leaders, who are at risk from pervasive state surveillance of our communications.”

While I strongly agree with this, I think that the argument that the state should be prevented from persecuting those who break the laws, because the laws themselves (or the state) could be and often are evil, is quite convoluted, since the essence of the state is that it represents and enforces law.

I agree that there is a point where this law enforcing capability becomes too much, and I can agree that maybe we’re already there, but it’s really hard for me to come up with a clear definition of when too much is too much.

27

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 5:53 pm

You can’t be serious, Bruce.

Is that what our conservative leadership is doing by way of mass appeal — using a reasoned argument? You seem to be forgetting that the average interlocutor on these threads is hardly a representative of the population at large.

28

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 6:00 pm

@ 24, lupita

“Brits need to practice their feelings of gratitude for, eventually, this particular giant vampire squid will be slain by the likes of China, Russia, Brazil, India… that is, foreigners and their insubordination towards Western hegemony. “

Indeed. for thus far it’s been a (white) man’s world.

Perhaps re-reading of Frantz Fanon is in order.

29

William Timberman 06.13.13 at 6:09 pm

Although I agree with lupita that the U.S. is currently the world’s most obnoxious, and more irritatingly for its concerned citizens, the most self-righteous vampire squid, I also think that Bruce Wilder is correct in locating the center of the associated evils in institutions, not in individuals. I also believe that such institutions, and the technologies which support them, are the manifestations of a human nature which precedes both. For that reason, if world hegemony, which is now in a more fluid state than either Lindsey Graham or Barack Obama are capable of understanding, eventually comes to rest on the Chinese, the Indians, or anyone else, I wouldn’t expect that change alone to banish the evils at issue.

Fortunately, those institutionalized impulses which otherize, demonize and attempt to eradicate all who aren’t members of the tribal council of elders are not the whole of human nature. If our thrice-damned power-prostheses could just be shorted out for a period of time, we might be able to figure out where we’ve gone wrong, and devote some energy to healing ourselves. Brautigan’s machines of loving grace, are not only possible, they’re closer at hand, and always will be, than well-tutored idiots like James Clapper have any idea.

30

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 6:10 pm

@26 Random Lurker

“I think that the argument that the state should be prevented from persecuting those who break the laws, because the laws themselves (or the state) could be and often are evil, is quite convoluted, since the essence of the state is that it represents and enforces law.”

Of course the state, by definition, is obligated to see to its own survival, even if it means teaching by example. But this isn’t to say that it ought not to be opposed when it comes to some of its practices.

31

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 6:19 pm

Yes, William Timberman, “the center of the associated evils [does rest] in institutions,” institutions which are, one hastens to say, Eurocentric, anchored in racism and white man’s supremacy.

And so, are you going to argue now that these characteristics are buried deep down in “human nature”?

32

Lee A. Arnold 06.13.13 at 6:30 pm

Insubordination was already disabled, pretty much! Three reasons: (1) electronic information + the security state; (2) the ability of small actors to wreak lots of murder and mayhem gives room for declarations of warlike security conditions (more or less, Josh Marshall’s position, I think); (3) very few people are really paying attention, unless somebody declares an open war. On this last one you see, the problem isn’t just with institutions: individuals are more or less ignorant (oops I mean, have “imperfect information”) and they are becoming exponentially more ignorant as the world complexifies. You have to go after the unlocked guns in their closet to get a response out of them. Because guess what? more information cannot save us, because we need to be able to comprehend it. In a situation like this, the only way out will be the first principle of Guerilla Rhetoric: “All dissent must be of a higher logical type than that to which it is opposed” (Baudrillard, taken apparently without attribution from Anthony Wilden).

33

William Timberman 06.13.13 at 6:38 pm

And so, are you going to argue now that these characteristics are buried deep down in “human nature”?

1. Yes. 2. No. (I don’t think any new argument is necessary.) 3. Deep down is a red herring. This part of our nature is very close to the surface. 4. Tibet. Kashmir. Eurocentric? Only by a carefully-leveraged bit of sophistry could you stretch the concept that far, I think.

34

lupita 06.13.13 at 6:44 pm

if world hegemony […] eventually comes to rest on the Chinese, the Indians, or anyone else, I wouldn’t expect that change alone to banish the evils at issue.

This is why I say that there is little insubordination regarding global hegemony to be disabled in the peoples of the core countries. The subordinate countries have been trying to get some talks going about international governance of communications, not Chinese or Indian governance. Equally, they are trying to get the core countries to let go of the presidencies of the Word Bank and the IMF and select the best candidate, not give the presidency to Brazil for all of eternity. The alternative to Western hegemony is a multipolar world, not global hegemony in the hands of another state.

US hegemony has its roots in an historical anomaly that rendered the US much more powerful than any other state or group of states. That is not the case now. It is impossible for Russia or even Latin America as a whole to preside over the rest of the globe as if it had just been carpet bombed and nuked and still under colonial rule. Not even the US can hang on to its supremacy at the moment.

35

Consumatopia 06.13.13 at 6:53 pm

“While I strongly agree with this, I think that the argument that the state should be prevented from persecuting those who break the laws, because the laws themselves (or the state) could be and often are evil, is quite convoluted, since the essence of the state is that it represents and enforces law.”

I think the idea is that there’s a difference between prosecuting someone for violating the law, and smearing every other aspect of their character by digging through their past and revealing anything else they ever did that was bad or unpopular.

The issue is not that the state should be prevented from punishing violations of the law. It’s that, rather than say “we punished someone for doing X”, the state can say “we punished this nasty person–the kind of scum who does filthy things W, Y and Z–for doing X”. Meanwhile, everyone is doing W, Y and Z, but they can keep that secret because they aren’t also doing X.

That makes it really easy for the state to avoid having to discuss whether X is something that should be punished in the first place.

36

William Timberman 06.13.13 at 6:53 pm

lupita @ 34

Agreed. If any good is to come of our present predicament, this is exactly where I would expect it to come from — the last shall be first, and so forth. The days of Whatever happens we have got, The Maxim gun and they have not may not be over yet, but they do seem numbered.

37

Bruce Wilder 06.13.13 at 6:58 pm

roger nowosielski: “. . . institutions which are, one hastens to say, Eurocentric, anchored in racism and white man’s supremacy . . .”

There is the whole Rights of Man thing, which has been in the fray a bit.

38

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 7:09 pm

@35, Consumatopia

But that presupposes that the state, within limits and allowing now for its own discretion, can be “just,” even though its status/existence/etc are threatened. Why should it not stoop to any and all methods, fair or unfair, in the interest of its suvival?

This is an unwarranted assumption.

39

roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 7:19 pm

@ 33, William Timberman

2 &3 — used it as a rhetorical device, to flesh out your meaning. And since, by your own admission, these are but “surface traits,” and therefore not “deep and buried,” they shouldn’t be to difficult to eradicate or at least to supplant by something better.

4 — irrelevant in that it has no bearing on the essentially racist, Eurocentric character of the dominant institutions — which point, btw, you do not address.

40

Bruce Wilder 06.13.13 at 7:19 pm

lupita @ 34

Yes, to all that. But, I’m less optimistic than you. I think there’s an emerging global elite, who think the agencies of regional or global governance — the EU or IMF or World Bank — are balloons, which do not need any foundation in nation-states or liberal democracy, let alone the sponsorship of a global hegemon. And, in a world in which overpopulation makes the masses more of a burden, on net, than a resource, there may be a certain logic, favoring a governance regime that universalizes oppression as a means to cope with global resource limits by depriving people of resources en masse. It is only necessary to have enough of a surveillance operation, to keep the masses from organizing resistance, and, apparently, they’ve got several candidates for that, and it is only a matter of getting the club together to work out the details.

It is not lost on me that Snowden’s revelations come against the background of Obama’s retreat with China’s new President, and some leaks about Chinese cyber-attacks, or that Snowden fled to Hong Kong.

41

Andrew F. 06.13.13 at 7:20 pm

I agree with much of this post, though after reading Marshall’s article I think he was a bit more nuanced than as portrayed (or more inconsistent, on a less forgiving interpretation).

I’d like to distinguish between legal capability and technological capability, since the post begins with the premise that government possesses the capability to conduct pervasive surveillance of communications, and then describes the harmful actions that be committed with such a capability.

Government has the technological capability to perpetrate enormous harm. It can search dwellings on whim, force or deceive companies into turning over records, threaten physical harm to silence peaceful dissent, maim to punish those who speak against it, and kill anyone deemed undesirable. Let’s say for the sake of argument that it can also conduct pervasive surveillance of our communications.

But the legal capability of the government is not identical to its technological capability. Legally, the government cannot search dwellings on a whim, deceive companies into turning over records, much less maim someone for peaceful dissent – or conduct pervasive surveillance of our communications. The legal capability of the government to surveil dissidents for the purpose of gathering blackmail material no longer exists; the legal capabilities of the government to investigate generally are much more limited than they were during most of the 20th century, when the harmful practices you describe occurred.

The most important question is whether the institutions that compose the government are constituted and configured in such a way as to lower the probability that the legal capabilities are exceeded while at the same time allowing those legal capabilities to be exercised in a way that accomplishes their purpose. If one focuses only on the technological capabilities of government, deciding that constraints and legal capabilities are irrelevant, one ends with concern about black helicopters and secret armies of domestic oppression. If one focuses only on the constraints ensuring lack of abuse, one ends with proposals that would result in a completely ineffective government, albeit one unable to exceed its legit remit.

The possibility that classified information will be leaked – the ever present chance of exposure – is an important constraint. It can operate as a failsafe, if other constraints break down. And that’s likely the way that most Americans perceive the legitimate function of leaks, given that a plurality don’t yet know what to make of Snowden; that he leaked wasn’t enough to decide the issue. However, there’s no clear indication here that those other constraints did break down, and I’m increasingly doubtful of the proposition that they did.

As to the idea that a world in which China has more power will “free” the West… wow. That is not a country that is going to move us towards less state control of communications. Far from it.

42

Bruce Wilder 06.13.13 at 7:27 pm

Andrew F @ 41

You do realize governments make the law?

Laws, which require government to act rationally by following procedures, which procedures allow opposing parties to be heard, are the product of democratic politics. We’re talking about overthrowing such procedures. How have you missed that?

43

Barry 06.13.13 at 7:31 pm

“The possibility that classified information will be leaked – the ever present chance of exposure – is an important constraint. It can operate as a failsafe, if other constraints break down. And that’s likely the way that most Americans perceive the legitimate function of leaks, given that a plurality don’t yet know what to make of Snowden; that he leaked wasn’t enough to decide the issue. However, there’s no clear indication here that those other constraints did break down, and I’m increasingly doubtful of the proposition that they did.”

Note that so far it’s not been demonstrably constraining. I’ll take as an example the last administration – it became clear that they faked the reasons for invading Iraq, but that didn’t matter. F*cking it up mattered, and only to the extent that it impinged on Americans (if they had installed a couple of Saddam’s generals, who massacred as neccessary, and gotten US ground forces out by 2004, it’d have been a rip-roaring success).

44

William Timberman 06.13.13 at 7:41 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 40

1990. A friend of mine, bar-tending at a place across from UN Headquarters in NY, to a US Army colonel, in uniform: Aren’t you guys more or less out of a job these days? The colonel, grinning: Yeah, East-West is pretty much over, but we’ve still got the North-South thing.

45

lupita 06.13.13 at 8:00 pm

Bruce Wilder@40

in a world in which overpopulation makes the masses more of a burden, on net, than a resource, there may be a certain logic, favoring a governance regime that universalizes oppression

The name of that certain logic is capitalism.

Do not get me wrong, I am not overly optimistic that the logic of post-capitalism will prevail anytime soon, but I am more optimistic than Obama that global capitalism will reign unimpeded from now on. He and Clapper and Cameron and Hague are sounding desperate.

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Sandwichman 06.13.13 at 8:08 pm

“the last administration – it became clear that they faked the reasons for invading Iraq”

And Clapper was part of the post-fake cover up:

In 2003, while attempting to explain the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Clapper, then the head of the Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said the weapons were there, but they’d been shipped out of the country to places like Syria just prior to the American invasion – a conclusion his own agency said it ‘could not provide further evidence to support.’

Obama on Clapper in 2010: “He possesses a quality that I value in all my advisers: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know even if it’s not what we want to hear.”

Clapper on his reverence for Congressional oversight: “And this has to do with of course somewhat of a semantic, perhaps some would say too — too cute by half. But it is– there are honest differences on the semantics of what — when someone says “collection” to me, that has a specific meaning, which may have a different meaning to him.”

Senator Wyden on Clapper’s semantic cuteness : “One of the most important responsibilities a Senator has is oversight of the intelligence community. This job cannot be done responsibly if Senators aren’t getting straight answers to direct questions.”

J. M. Marshall on Snowden’s disclosure: “The fact that what he’s doing is against the law speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone doubts that narrow point.”

Legality doesn’t “speak for itself.” It’s not at all a “narrow point” when the government is selective about compliance with its own statutes.

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Andrew F. 06.13.13 at 8:17 pm

Bruce – I’m missing why you think I’m missing something. I interpret the post as discussing the function that some illegal actions have in spurring political progress and in constraining political injustice; and the danger that the capability of pervasive surveillance poses to that function. The extent to which the technological capability of pervasive surveillance is a danger of the kind Chris describes depends on, in large part, the legal capability of government to conduct that surveillance and the constraints in place that limit the actual actions of government to its legal capabilities.

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roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 8:18 pm

@45

“more optimistic than . . . “?

Can’t quite understand your usage in this context.

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Consumatopia 06.13.13 at 8:32 pm

It is only technological constraints, not legal constraints, that prevent foreign actors or criminals from using our databases and wiretapping systems against us–China isn’t going to be deterred by any law against hacking.

Embracing the strongest technological constraints–for example, requiring all communication systems to be encrypted and wiretapping-proof–would make democratic government more, rather than less, effective. What the state would lose in surveillance capability, we (both the state and the people) would gain in security from foreign surveillance and hacking. We would gain even more as other countries started to follow our example–if the rest of the democratic world adopted these systems, authoritarian regimes would be forced to decide between adopting the same surveillance proof communication systems the rest of us use, or isolating themselves.

Instead, we are moving in the opposite direction. Our laws (CALEA) require equipment manufacturers and communications service providers to have wiretapping capabilities The FBI wants to push that law even further, to require that communications software on all of our computers includes backdoors. (I haven’t heard much about that proposal since all of this NSA stuff started. Possibly because it’s hard to reassure me that you don’t have a direct link into Google’s computers when you’re demanding what is essentially a direct link to my computer.)

That is my problem with Marshall’s take on this, nationalistically equating the people with the secret surveillance state that spies on the people. I cheer on anyone in China who successfully evades their surveillance state just as some Chinese cheer for Americans evading our surveillance state. It is that cosmopolitanism that gives me hope–that freedom loving people of different countries might see themselves as allies rather than letting the various national elites of the world play us against each other.

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Matt 06.13.13 at 9:10 pm

+1 for Consumatopia.

Strong encryption can still resist the snooping efforts of even the best-funded attackers, like the NSA. If the US government could just tap telco traffic at central points (as they are already doing) and decrypt at will, no special deals with Google, Skype, etc. would be necessary.

But, as the computer security saying goes, “the doors are iron but the walls are made of paper.” Meaning that even a billion-dollar effort over 10 years can’t crack your encrypted Internet traffic, but millions of computers end up infected with malware (which could be spyware) because of exploitable software defects in operating systems, web browsers, PDF readers, etc.

Eventually these defects get fixed as they are discovered, but new software releases also introduce new defects all the time.

The net result is that if electronic communications use encryption by default, the ability of security or law enforcement agencies to spy as a matter of course is severely curtailed. Hurray! But if there’s good old fashioned probable cause marking a dangerous criminal, there’s always enough unpatched software bugs around to deliver surveillance software to the target. Also hurray! Law enforcement can still tap communications of the most dangerous criminals, including terrorists. The electronic communications “going dark” problem the FBI frets about isn’t really a problem, unless (horror! shock!) they’re using dire, rare scenarios about terrorists, mob bosses, and kidnappers to promote technical capabilities they want to deploy against thousands of targets a year in the war on drugs, leakers, activists, etc.

The more frequently you use publicly unknown software exploits to install spyware, the more rapidly the exploit will be identified and fixed. So there is a built in mechanism encouraging snoops to limit electronic surveillance by surreptitiously installed spyware to high value targets. This isn’t quite as good as getting a good old fashioned warrant based on probable cause from a non-secret court, but the end result should be about the same: a dramatic reduction in incidental spying and casual fishing expeditions.

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b9n10nt 06.13.13 at 9:16 pm

The real impetus for our opposition to privacy-intruding metadata collection for purposes of law enforcement (…breath…) comes from our critique of the national security state.

If such powers of data collection were used by a left-wing SEC to enforce laws pertaining to insider trading and other forms of financial collusion, or if they were used by a left-wing EPA to enforce laws pertaining to heavy-metal pollution etc…, we’d be cheering them on. And that’s not a “gotcha” attempt to establish hypocrisy: it’s a forthright declaration of our actual agenda.

We are acutely aware that “foreign policy” and “national defense” are realms of governance in which domestic politics plays a central animating role. Obviously, a governing body whose members support drone strikes, indefinite detentions, arming violent factions, and state aggression certainly doesn’t fight “terrorism” or have any unique concern for welfare. The various institutions involved in “national security” are engaged in a domestic fight for institutional strength and power.

The police power and national security mandate given to modern governments are, from the point of view of a civil libertarian, dangerous tools ripe for corruption. But to an egalitarian, anti-capitalist, environmentalist left, the institutions that have these powers and this mandate are also a branch of the reactionary, authoritarian right. That is to say, PRISM isn’t only a danger to civil liberties generally, it is a danger to left-wing politics specifically And so we oppose almost every development within these institutions both as civil libertarians and and left-wingers.

There is no “state”, no “government”. These terms are mystifying in the abstract. There are institutions that have a culture of relative independence from today’s Elite and thus may actually act as a countervailing power to that Elite, and there are institutions that serve the Elite (0r rather, the Elite serves them for strategic reasons). The NSA is of the latter group.

Terrorism is a minor problem. The major problems (global warming, poverty, wars, oppression) can only be addressed once the institutions that advertise themselves as correcting the minor problem are captured and placed in the service of a radical left agenda. PRISM is only one of a myriad of symptoms created by the disease of Elite rule.

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Barry 06.13.13 at 9:23 pm

“And Clapper was part of the post-fake cover up:”

And isn’t there somebody around here who thinks that there are checks and balances and that things getting out will cause reforms and stuff and suchlike?

Here’s a guy intimately involved, and publicly lying, who’s gotten promoted. And promoted across partisan lines.

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b9n10nt 06.13.13 at 9:33 pm

Consumatopia @ 49:

It is that cosmopolitanism that gives me hope–that freedom loving people of different countries might see themselves as allies rather than letting the various national elites of the world play us against each other.

But freedom for what? The freedom to be private and autonomous within the state’s borders? But then that must be balanced by the security to enjoy the privacy and autonomy afforded by the state. Now we are having the mainstream debate about security vs. freedom.

But what if you say…”the freedom to fight the plutocracy” and “the freedom to act in the general welfare”. Now we are being more honest, I think, and being more effective in our rhetoric as well. Now we are pointing out that the NSA does not provide us security but is more likely than not threaten it (as you argue).

We don’t want to safeguard freedoms that are already enjoyed so much as we want to create freedoms that don’t yet exist. And keeping this forefront is a way to go beyond a hegemonic discourse in which we lose (that’s going to happen anyway) and aren’t heard (that’s much more of a problem).

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roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 9:38 pm

@51

“There are institutions that have a culture of relative independence from today’s Elite . . .”

Such as? — unless you expect the modifier “relative independence” do more work for you than I’d be willing to allow.

(And you can’t mean the free press, or do you?)

I also find it interesting how you manage to divorce the “life” of an institution from the people whose purposes it serves. You say, e.g., that “the Elite serves ‘them’ . . , for strategic reasons …” or whatever. This kind of puts the relationship, as it’s normally understood, on its head. Any reason for your doing so?

Which isn’t to argue that institutions don’t have a tendency to acquire a life of their own, e.g., their own inertia, momentum, etc — but it seems you’re packing much more into that concept than this simple observation.

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Matt 06.13.13 at 9:39 pm

If such powers of data collection were used by a left-wing SEC to enforce laws pertaining to insider trading and other forms of financial collusion, or if they were used by a left-wing EPA to enforce laws pertaining to heavy-metal pollution etc…, we’d be cheering them on. And that’s not a “gotcha” attempt to establish hypocrisy: it’s a forthright declaration of our actual agenda.

Is it CT consensus that unlimited spy powers are great as long as they are used mainly to look for rogue corporate executives? I would like to see the EPA and SEC prosecute crimes more aggressively. I would not like to see the recently revealed secret surveillance programs maintained under EPA-and-SEC control. I would like these secret programs dismantled, or better yet, rendered ineffective by technical changes, so that they cannot be resurrected under new names or with new justifications.

Other nations have better enforced financial and environmental laws without, to my knowledge, having anything like the scope of the NSA’s spy powers. How do you find facilities that are illegally polluting? By testing air, water, and soil samples near the facilities, not by recording everyone’s telephone metadata and feeding it to supercomputers!

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lupita 06.13.13 at 9:50 pm

roger nowosielski@48

Can’t quite understand your usage in this context.

Rereading that sentence I can fully understand why. What I meant was that, judging from the latest statements coming from security and government officials in the US and UK, it seems to me that they have realized that the empire is crumbling. They remind me of Comical Ali.

Consumatopia@49

We would gain even more as other countries started to follow our example–if the rest of the democratic world adopted these systems, authoritarian regimes would be forced to decide between adopting the same surveillance proof communication systems the rest of us use, or isolating themselves.

I see it the other way around: core countries are becoming isolated and need to follow the lead of subordinate countries and stop blocking change towards multipolar global institutions. The core has lost all legitimacy in presiding over global security (Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib), global finances (debt, privatizations, financial crashes all over the place) and, now, global communications (massive global surveillance).

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b9n10nt 06.13.13 at 10:03 pm

roger @ 54:

I’d say the EPA has relative independence. There’s a meaningful difference between an institution enforcing the Clean Water Act and one that enforces various “national security” laws. The institutions are not equally the expression of Elite politics.

This kind of puts the relationship, as it’s normally understood, on its head. Any reason for your doing so?

I don’t think the Elite gained directly from troops being in Afghanistan or Algeria ro Iraq. There’s no obvious way, beyond via military contractors, that the Elite are served by the national security state. But generally, the absence of international conflict really does lead mass politics to focus on domestic problems in ways that will frustrate Elite goals. So the Elite serves these agencies: funding is generous and not subject to democratic scrutiny, the diversionary violence is legitimized, etc… The Empire is a form of conspicuous consumption for the plutocracy and much of what is produced is popular apathy and distraction.

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roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 10:27 pm

I see how you use “serves” in this context — e.g., to mean “supports.”

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roger nowosielski 06.13.13 at 10:36 pm

@56

Not to mention the increasing loss of legitimacy in South America, due to, say, the Bolivarian Revolution.

The following citation from Frantz Fanon comes to mind:

“We have better things to do … than follow in that Europe’s footsteps … Come, comrades, the European game is finally over, we must find something else. We can do anything today provided we do not ape [singer] Europe, provided we are not obsessed with catching up with
Europe.”

See this pdf text, p. 36

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Sandwichman 06.14.13 at 12:01 am

Here is the kind of feeble ex post facto speculation that officials depend on to justify the NSA program. What Mueller is saying is that IF the FBI already knew what they were looking for, the program would have given them the capability of finding it. But, of course, if they already knew what was going to happen, there were probably other capabilities available at the time that could have prevented it.

In defending the controversial NSA program to collect and store the phone-call records of millions of Americans, Mr. Mueller – who has served as the FBI director for nearly a dozen years – says that it could have “derailed” the 9/11 attacks.

“If we had had this program, that opportunity would have been there,” he told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee.

That’s because although one of the principal 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar, was being monitored by intelligence agencies, “they lost track of him,” Mueller said.

While Mr. Mihdhar was in San Diego, he was phoning a known Al Qaeda safehouse in Yemen, he added.

Yet intelligence officials did not know who was calling the safehouse. The NSA monitoring program could have changed that, Mueller argued.

“If we had the telephone number from Yemen, we would have matched it up to that telephone number in San Diego, got further legal process, identified al-Mihdhar,” he said. “The 9/11 Commission itself indicated that investigations or interrogations of al-Mihdhar once he was identified could have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot.”

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Consumatopia 06.14.13 at 1:19 am

@Matt: “But if there’s good old fashioned probable cause marking a dangerous criminal, there’s always enough unpatched software bugs around to deliver surveillance software to the target. Also hurray!”

I’m not sure we can assume this would always be true. Software development is a mess, but it’s getting better–this laptop certainly crashes a lot less often than my Windows 98 desktop used to. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that development could be drastically improved–for example, if formal verification methods became easier to use, or computers started programming themselves. (It’s even possible that the distinction between “technological capabilities” and “legal capabilities” Andrew F described could disappear–that law could be understood and enforced by machines). Maybe even the old-fashioned kind of surveillance–human beings physically planting bugs in sensitive locations–could be made obsolete. Our homes could be cyber-physical hybrid systems, that could formally prove the absence of surveillance bugs inside their walls.

Beyond that, while I agree that given the existence of those security holes the police should make use of them (if they have probable cause), I would still rather see those holes become very rare. I think the bad guys–criminals and tyrants–make at least as much use of security holes as the good guys do.

“Is it CT consensus that unlimited spy powers are great as long as they are used mainly to look for rogue corporate executives?”

I don’t think this is the sort of issue on which you can expect a consensus from the left (or the right). Surveillance is useful for all sorts of leftist aims. The EPA is a bad example–the whole point of the EPA is to regulate externalities, which, being external, should be discoverable. The SEC isn’t much better–the purpose of the SEC is to protect investors, which isn’t really a core left-wing goal. The IRS is probably a better example–encryption and digital currency could make tax evasion easier. And that’s probably the least of it–generally speaking, privacy makes conspiracies easier. That includes both small conspiracies–everything from street gangs to employer blacklists–to multinational corporations collaborating illegally.

But the same surveillance that could prevent those conspiracies can also be used against protest movements and union drives–or to locate and silence whistleblowers. Surveillance both constrains and enables conspiracies. So there’s going to be some on the left with b9n10nt’s position (which seems to be a left-wing variant of Andrew F’s position, though I’m not sure I fully understand either of them). Others, like me, would be willing to give up on good surveillance if it meant we could get rid of bad surveillance.

@b9n10nt

We don’t want to safeguard freedoms that are already enjoyed so much as we want to create freedoms that don’t yet exist. And keeping this forefront is a way to go beyond a hegemonic discourse in which we lose (that’s going to happen anyway) and aren’t heard (that’s much more of a problem).

I’m not entirely sure I understand, but I think I might agree–it makes more sense for outsiders focus on creation than preservation. Some people arguing against state tyranny or plutocracy tend to emphasize the dangers of oppression (‘what if the government arrests you?’, ‘what if you have a preexisting condition and you lose your job?’), rather than the potential benefits of freedom. I made fun of Hayek just like everyone else weeks ago, but he did have a good point on freedom–that freedom is more, not less valuable because it is unpredictable. What would happen if everyone in the world could communicate with anyone without fear of surveillance? Well, I don’t know. That’s why I want it to happen. Somehow we’ve been convinced that progress comes from huge, disciplined organizations–governments and multinational corporations–while just a decade ago we were talking about garage inventors and bloggers disrupting everything. (Now when we talk about small actors causing disruptions it’s usually in the negative light Lee A. Arnold refers to.) Those exaggerations in the past were often silly and sometimes pernicious, but they at least reflected an optimism about unpredictable processes that I think is necessary for liberalism and freedom to win the day. I’m not sure what it would take to restore that optimism, or if that’s even a good idea, but ultimately if you can’t take a risk on the unpredictable, you depend on the authorities to keep everything predictable–to keep the rich rich, the middle class comfortable, the poor down and the foreigners out.

@lupita

I see it the other way around: core countries are becoming isolated and need to follow the lead of subordinate countries and stop blocking change towards multipolar global institutions. The core has lost all legitimacy in presiding over global security (Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib), global finances (debt, privatizations, financial crashes all over the place) and, now, global communications (massive global surveillance).

To be clear, when I was talking about the United States leading the world to a technologically surveillance proof world, I was speaking counterfactually–I don’t think the U.S. will do this, but I think it would serve the interests of U.S. citizens, and that puts the lie to the claim that U.S. government surveillance is on behalf of, rather than against, U.S. citizens.

I don’t think it’s helpful to describe actual existing countries as “leaders” or “followers”. Every country has some people trying to lock things down and other people trying to be free.

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roger nowosielski 06.14.13 at 1:42 am

@61

Why is it not helpful? Lupita’s reference to “core countries” was clear enough to draw the distinction between, say, the West (or the “fully-developed” countries) and those that aren’t yet “fully-developed” and which are bent on following our lead.

The distinction pertains more to what results as a given nation-state’s overall policy, less to whatever divisions there may exist within as regards following in the West’ footsteps.

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Consumatopia 06.14.13 at 2:21 am

the distinction between, say, the West (or the “fully-developed” countries) and those that aren’t yet “fully-developed” and which are bent on following our lead.

Wait, that’s not clear at all–I thought lupita’s point was that non-core countries were going to start leading the core.

Anyway, my point is that we shouldn’t be thinking in terms of nation-states having overall policies. Google and the NSA and Edward Snowden all have different interests and policies, even if they’re all American. When Erdogan calls Twitter a menace to society, he isn’t speaking for all Turks. I fear a “multi-polar” world in which the elites of all countries collaborate to control everyone else.

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Matt 06.14.13 at 2:41 am

@Consumatopia:

I agree that software defects are exploited by ordinary criminals much more often than by law enforcement. I also agree that computer security is becoming better over time. But it is becoming better so slowly that I think it is decades before someone can honestly claim that the next Osama bin Laden’s computer or smartphone can’t be tapped without explicit corporate-government collusion. Just look at how nations other than the US monitor people using encrypted, uncooperative services like Gmail: targets are tricked into installing spy malware. If the targets are physically accessible to US agents, even a computer with perfect software security can have a hardware keylogger clandestinely installed while the target is away; the FBI has done it before. The “problem” is that this is too difficult to do for thousands of minor cases or on a hunch — extraordinary capabilities would really be only for extraordinary suspects.

I don’t think this is the sort of issue on which you can expect a consensus from the left (or the right). Surveillance is useful for all sorts of leftist aims. The EPA is a bad example–the whole point of the EPA is to regulate externalities, which, being external, should be discoverable. The SEC isn’t much better–the purpose of the SEC is to protect investors, which isn’t really a core left-wing goal. The IRS is probably a better example–encryption and digital currency could make tax evasion easier.

Even with the IRS, I’m not sure how much difference airtight digital security would make. If you buy cars, boats, or real estate, the difference between declared income and spending power should be apparent. If you’re just collecting art and jewels you still need an identity and records to enforce contracts. If you’re anonymously sending undeclared crypto-bucks to some entity who promised expensive goods or services, and they run away without providing anything, or provide something far inferior to the initial description, you’re out of luck. And despite what the libertarians dream about, I don’t think that “reputation” can take the place of a proper regulatory system. The evidence? Adulteration of food and beverages was known for centuries in the UK before it was formally regulated, and in all that time “reputation” did not eliminate vinegar soured with sulfuric acid, flour stretched with chalk dust, or candy colored with arsenic compounds from the market.

The scenario that might work is if you receive/accumulate undeclared crypto-bucks and then permanently leave the country to enjoy the untaxed accumulation.

In any case, if I had to make an all-or-nothing declaration I would say that I prefer for everyone to have absolutely secure electronic communications.

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roger nowosielski 06.14.13 at 2:43 am

Yes, I think that describes her preferred scenario, and that part I really don’t understand, especially since she comes across as a critic of government by the Western elites (and I don’t make any distinction here between elites).

A “multi-polar” world, a globally-administered world, is indeed to be feared, but it’s already here (IMF, the World Bank and centralized financial system), excepts for pockets of resistance here and there. Which is what I thought was Lupita’s main point, or should have been.

Perhaps China is not yet part of it, but I think the economic interests will trump the political ones.

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Salient 06.14.13 at 3:37 am

Foreign Secretary William Hague told us that “law-abiding citizens” have nothing to fear. Not only do I not wish to be the kind of person Hague thinks of as “law abiding”, more generally it is social movements that willfully break the law that are most likely to bring about change and to threaten established power and privilege.

Also, there are a lot of shitty ways to feel that are compatible with ‘nothing to fear.’ You can experience the feeling of fear/anxiety/apprehension even if you are rationally convinced you have nothing to fear, and you can still be experiencing suffering even if you’re not experiencing the emotion of fear — feeling ‘self-conscious’ comes to mind. So the statement is bullshit even for politically disengaged and “law-abiding” folks.

Also too, it’s like these guys are determined to make themselves look as bad as possible. The “nothing to fear” motif is only said by villains in the movies nowadays. It’s always said smugly with a smirk, and it always means “Fuck all y’all, I/we write the rules now,” and you’re always supposed to hate and distrust the asshole who says it. It’s beyond cliche at this point. Paging the Foreign Secretary Messaging Department…

If such powers of data collection were used by a left-wing SEC to enforce laws pertaining to insider trading and other forms of financial collusion, or if they were used by a left-wing EPA to enforce laws pertaining to heavy-metal pollution etc…, we’d be cheering them on.

And if “such powers of data collection” were used by NASA, we could have half the surface of Mars mapped by now, or something like that. Which would actually be awesome! Your comment isn’t really saying anything more than “if we had completely differently functioning but equally powerful investigative tools that we could use elsewhere for other ends, we’d be happy about that.” It’s half a step away from saying something like “If the money for this got spent on preventative health care, we’d be cheering that on.” Sure, I guess? It’s just too vague to infer anything meaningful from.

And yeah also What Consumatopia Said. The data used by the EPA (and by the SEC, I guess, but fuck the SEC) should be made publicly available. But I think this can be amplified — it seems reasonable enough that commercial institutions can’t expect to enjoy the same human right to privacy that humans ought to be entitled to…

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b9n10nt 06.14.13 at 3:59 am

Consumatopia @ 61:

But imagine what an EPA could be if given Dept of Justice like powers in which corporate crime were treated like urban crime. Like drug gangs & the wmob, we know that informal markets in negative corporate externalities are economically over-determined (and therefore likely to occur) and social-institutional (and therefore amenable to surveillance of social networks to establish conspiracy).

I recognize the core utility of high-tech surveillance to various law enforcement institutions. There are two criteria that make broad social network surveillance legitimate:

1) after a clear violation of law has been established

2) after a suspect individual or social network has been established

Of course, the uber-criterion is a state captured by popular democratic socialistic interests. That’s utopian but notice how well so many countervailing institutions work given the society they have operated in over the last 3 decades. The strength of popular institutions attests to the hope that we need not fear surveilling institutions that meet our two criteria.

The problem w PRISM is that we can’t see the criteria being met and know that it isn’t. & terrorism isn’t nearly important enough anyway. But for the Dept of J to more-fully support regulatory agencies: that’s a form of progress, I’d say.

Anyway, if any of this sounds good to you, you’ll notice there’s no space for such left-talk while we are “balancing security with liberty” (which implies that we are looking to a capitalist state to suport these social realities).

Fuck the NSA way before PRISM, in other words. They are practically institutionally incapable of furthering the well-established ability to flourish in our communities. At best, the institution is an expensive irrelevancy and a gold mine of smart people and cool gadgets.

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lupita 06.14.13 at 4:30 am

roger nowosielski@65

A “multi-polar” world, a globally-administered world, is indeed to be feared, but it’s already here (IMF, the World Bank and centralized financial system

We do live in a globally-administered world but it is not a multipolar one. The global institutions, such as the UNSC, World Bank, IMF, WTO, NPT, G7 are all controlled by NATO countries. Subordinate countries have been vying for representation in these institutions with no success. Representation in these institutions would have been a step in the direction of multipolarity. Since it never happened, plan B is to bypass Western global institutions by strengthening regional blocks.

Perhaps China is not yet part of it, but I think the economic interests will trump the political ones.

How could it be in China’s economic interest to remain a junior partner in a world dominated by Western global institutions?

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Ronan(rf) 06.14.13 at 11:54 am

Lupita

If you haven’t read it already, you might be interested in Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s new book ‘The Making of global Capitalism’

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bob mcmanus 06.14.13 at 1:12 pm

69: There is a discussion (Therborn, Jessop, etc) series of that book over at New Left Project (link at right) with Panitch and Gindin responding Tuesday

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lupita 06.14.13 at 2:28 pm

Thanks, Ronan and Bob.

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Cian 06.14.13 at 3:04 pm

61: I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that development could be drastically improved–for example, if formal verification methods became easier to use, or computers started programming themselves.

This is a little like saying that if we had strong AI then our culture would be radically different. While it’s undeniable and it’s not outside the realm of possibility (what is?), it’s so far from where we’re at…

Making a system really secure is very hard. For example, OpenBSD is probably secure (nobody’s entirely certain, that’s impossible – and it may have been compromised by the NSA), but has (deliberately) restricted functionality and is not suitable for consumers. And to keep it secure requires vigilance and work from the Sysadmin. You could automate that, but then that becomes a possible security hole…

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Matt 06.14.13 at 5:36 pm

Making a system really secure is very hard. For example, OpenBSD is probably secure (nobody’s entirely certain, that’s impossible – and it may have been compromised by the NSA), but has (deliberately) restricted functionality and is not suitable for consumers. And to keep it secure requires vigilance and work from the Sysadmin. You could automate that, but then that becomes a possible security hole…

Today OpenBSD is no harder to use than Linux was 10 years ago (how’s that for faint praise?) but even if you use it, you probably want a web browser, PDF reader, mail client, etc. Those applications aren’t built by people as security-minded as the core OS development team. OS security without user application security is of limited value when we’re talking about preserving user privacy:

https://www.xkcd.com/1200/

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Bruce Wilder 06.14.13 at 6:05 pm

Yes, user privacy in transactional systems, not OS security, is the problem to be solved. That’s why I labeled it a problem of identification.

The whole system of payments, credit and property rights, as well as the protection of anonymity for political purposes, and privacy generally, is being undermined by the difficulties surrounding the architecture of personal identification.

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William Timberman 06.14.13 at 6:38 pm

I’m reminded of Gertrude Stein’s I am I because my little dog knows me. This is clearly too subtle for our very modern surveillance state, so now we have: I am I because some functionary at the end of a fibre optic cable has decided to make me the sum of all my electronically-recorded transactions. What would happen, I wonder, if these morons ever read anything but their own operations manuals….

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Rich Puchalsky 06.14.13 at 7:05 pm

OP: “And once the sliming facts, the family secrets, the personal insecurities are discreetly put out there by a government agency, they can be deployed and recycled via sympathetic journalists and blogs and repeated ad nauseam on Facebook and Twitter.”

Marshall posted “Interesting Trajectory: Popular Communist party-backed paper on the mainland says Snowden could be useful to China” on the TPM Editors blog. Read the comments if you really want to see what Obots are capable of.

That’s one of the most important fundamental losses from the Obama years. Do I trust any of those people “on the left” to defend anyone for any reason other than partisan interest? No. I used to think that they were committed to a coherent set of values, but the GOP taunt that they only cared because Bush was doing it turned out to be true.

Anyone know of a better site than TPM? I’ve been reading it just for general political news, out of habit, but it’s time that habit changed.

77

Cian 06.14.13 at 7:43 pm

What Matt said in #73.

Your system is as secure as your weakest link. Well that’s not quite true, but it’s true enough for your average user.

78

Sandwichman 06.14.13 at 8:06 pm

“Read the comments if you really want to see what Obots are capable of.”

I would prefer not to.

79

Substance McGravitas 06.14.13 at 8:18 pm

That’s one of the most important fundamental losses from the Obama years. Do I trust any of those people “on the left” to defend anyone for any reason other than partisan interest? No.

That’s true of partisans anywhere. There’s your tribe and you defend it. Believers are a problem.

80

Rich Puchalsky 06.14.13 at 10:00 pm

With all due respect, Substance, that’s nonsense. No one has yet succeeded in making a political movement whose activities are all just fun (although I heartily congratulate the people who try.) It pretty much comes down to asking people to take risks and make sacrifices, eventually. People don’t do that without belief. No belief, no mass movement.

Similarly, partisanship can be really no different from what the people at LGM go on about lesser-evilism. In the U.S, the election rules make it so that there can really be only two parties. Can you favor one of these these parties by default, to the point of supporting them even on issues that you don’t care about, because that’s the only real way of making progress on things you do care about? Yes.

But it has to be belief in something more or less real, and partisanship that actually works towards something. We’re now at the stage where people are saying “Obama is doing the same things that Bush did, but I guess it’s OK because I trust Obama more.” That’s pretty much the “I’d like to have a beer with him” stage of belief. It indicates that you’re running on fumes. Having more and more ardent partisanship that’s about less and less is not a path that can keep going indefinitely.

That’s why it’s a political leader’s job to cash those checks — to make it clear, when they come to power, that there is something real supporting the belief.

81

Substance McGravitas 06.14.13 at 10:13 pm

It pretty much comes down to asking people to take risks and make sacrifices, eventually. People don’t do that without belief. No belief, no mass movement.

I’m here just meaning “believers” as “unthinking followers”. I don’t think that’s the same thing as thinking your candidate has a shot at doing good things.

That’s pretty much the “I’d like to have a beer with him” stage of belief.

Yeah, that’s all I meant.

My mother, for instance, is a die-hard Tory voter. When you ask her about policy, however, she’s clearly not one and should be a natural voter for another party (though not in agreement with my views). You can line up the little check marks in front of her, one candidate compared to another, and say “Look, this person believes what you believe. Why not vote for her?” And then she’ll go vote Tory and tell me so. That’s her tribe and she sticks with it.

82

novakant 06.14.13 at 10:46 pm

Marshall has always been a tool, unprincipled and opportunistic, carefully checking which way the wind blows and adjusting accordingly, mostly interested in furthering his career:

http://www.salon.com/2002/11/11/democrats_iraq/

The terrifying thing is: they’ll pull the same shtick with Iran.

83

Suzanne 06.14.13 at 11:23 pm

@81:
The rationalizations produced routinely by believers in Obama (he wasn’t called the messiah for nothing) require a good deal of thought. It takes considerable mental energy to explain things away.

84

Consumatopia 06.14.13 at 11:56 pm

This is a little like saying that if we had strong AI then our culture would be radically different.

Not really, there are certainly measures we could take far short of having human-like AI that could make our software significantly more secure. We could use programming languages like Coq or Agda that facilitate formally provable code. No such proof can be completely certain, of course, there would always be axioms the programmer declares for each project, but the list of those axioms can be used as the start of a testing regime–computers could automatically generate test cases for each axiom.

That’s just an example, maybe there’s some reason why it wouldn’t work, but I think there is room for significant improvement for the process of software development that would result in fewer bugs. Even just using programming languages with stronger type systems would help a lot.

To get even more pedestrian than that, sandboxing and virtualization could be used today–even by a user who doesn’t know anything about programming–to prevent your entire system being compromised by one flawed application. Take that xkcd comic, dedicate one virtual machine to each of the listed applications.

I’m not suggesting anyone actually do this, because Bruce Wilder @74 is right. The third parties I share my information with, whether or not the information I send and receive over the wire is in clear text, and the difficulty of sending any information (even encrypted) without revealing that you sent information,are all way more important to privacy than the bugs that certainly exist on any reasonably up to date consumer OS. If you’re a government official who decides that you want to leak classified info to a reporter that will piss off intelligence agencies, you will probably get caught, but it probably won’t be because you failed to secure your laptop.

85

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 1:05 am

Lupita, Consumatopia @61, 62. 63, 65. and 68

Sorry for belated response. More than one thing on the burner.

Now as I string all these comments together, I see that our disagreement has been mostly verbal, the Tower of Babel syndrome.

First, by “multi-polar” I mean different (competing) spheres/centers of influence. And by this definition, and contrary to Lupita’s articulation, “representation of subordinate countries” in global institutions ( World Bank, IMF, et cetera) “would [not] have been a step in the direction of multipolarity” but precisely the opposite – resulting in a more homogeneous, one-polar world, globally-administered by those very authoritarian, global in scope, and financial institutions – certainly the least of all desirable scenarios, imho. And I see now that, taking the lead from Consumatopia, I misspoke in #65 when I said that a multi-polar word is to be feared. It’s certainly preferable to one-polar word, again by the definition. So in this context, I fail to see why Lupita would consider it “Plan B,” which is to say, a less desirable scenario. It’s precisely what the “subordinate countries” ought to do – carve out their own area or sphere of influence that, relatively speaking, would be independent of the ever-globalizing influence of the West, featuring and promoting capitalism as an all-round cure.

[Which explains my remark concerning China. She’d always have the option to either join the Western bloc or to form an alternative power center, whatever would be deemed to serve her best economic and political interests.]

You’re no doubt familiar with the following texts, but just in case:

1) Notes Toward a Critique of Anarchist Imperialism,” by George Ciccariello-Maher;

2) Geopolitics of the Amazon by Álvaro García Linera (the text readily downloadable in a pdf form).

The first is on a theoretical side (Fanon, Sorel, Foucault, Rancière), eventually connecting to the Venezuela situation, but the following appeal by Fanon bears repeating. [“Come comrades, we have better things to do . . . than follow in that Europe's footsteps . . . the European game is finally over, we must find something else. We can do anything today provided we do not ape [singer] Europe, provided we are not obsessed with catching up with Europe.”7o (page 36)] The second is a detailed account of the kind of difficulties faced by the state of Bolivia, both from within (on a/c of the conservative elements) and without – and here we cannot help but single out our well-meaning liberals and “imperial anarchists.” Both text make a powerful argument on behalf the Bolivarian Revolution, in progress, according to Lupita’s “Plan B” – one effective way of preventing the globalizing influence of capitalism from spreading concentrically (so as to consume all and all alike) by establishing alternative centers of power.

Of course, even this “multi-polar” world, by my definition, is only a remedial, stopgap measure, not the ultimate one; and here I’m citing from the second-mentioned text:

“In contrast to a naïve ultraleftism that thinks a society can escape world domination by itself, Lenin and Marx remind us that capitalism operates on a world scale, and can only be overcome on a world scale. 93 So struggles and efforts for the socialization of production in a single country are simply that: efforts, battles and dispersed skirmishes that convey an historical intent but can triumph only if they expand to become struggles on a world scale. Communism either is world-wide or it will never be. And while there is a general predominance of capitalism, within it there are glimmers and tendencies of struggles of a potential new mode of production that cannot exist locally, and can only be present as just that: a tendency, a struggle, a possibility, for its existence is conceivable only on a worldwide geopolitical scale. The illusion of “communism in a single country” was just that: an illusion that brought disastrous consequences for the workers of that country and for the expectations of revolution in the 20th century.

Socialism is not a new mode of production that would coexist alongside capitalism, territorially contesting the world or one country. Socialism is a battlefield between capitalism in crisis and the tendencies, potentialities and efforts to bring production under community ownership and control. 94 In other words, it is the historical period of struggle between the dominant established capitalist mode of production and another potentially new mode of production. The only mode of production that will overcome capitalism is communism, the assumption of community ownership and control of production of the material life of society. And that mode of production does not exist piecemeal, it can only exist on a world scale. But until that happens the only thing that is left is the struggle.”

BTW, would it be OK by either of you to re-post parts of this thread in a comments space dedicated to my own article, ”The Anarchist’s Dilemma, an Interlude: One Size Doesn’t Fit All”? I feel it would help advance the discussion, so I’d appreciate your consent.

Please let me know.

86

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 1:10 am

Reworking the last-mentioned, unworkable link.

87

Consumatopia 06.15.13 at 1:39 am

You certainly have my consent, but this topic is probably something I should stop talking and start reading about (starting with those links–this and this might work better?)

88

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 1:47 am

I appreciate your cooperation. And as far as the cited links are concerned, I’m more than certain that you’ll find your time well spent.

89

lupita 06.15.13 at 3:11 am

Yes, of course you may re-post whatever you wish and thanks for the reading material. I do want to point out that by “plan B” I meant that the steps taken by South American countries to promote greater regional integration and autonomy came after unsuccessfully trying to gain more representation in global institutions, not that I found plan B less desirable. In any case, both plans A and B have the same intent: to keep the US from ransacking the region.

90

Matt 06.15.13 at 5:31 am

Not really, there are certainly measures we could take far short of having human-like AI that could make our software significantly more secure. We could use programming languages like Coq or Agda that facilitate formally provable code. No such proof can be completely certain, of course, there would always be axioms the programmer declares for each project, but the list of those axioms can be used as the start of a testing regime–computers could automatically generate test cases for each axiom.

That’s just an example, maybe there’s some reason why it wouldn’t work, but I think there is room for significant improvement for the process of software development that would result in fewer bugs. Even just using programming languages with stronger type systems would help a lot.

This is all true. A little bit of it is happening gradually. The world of software is dominated by output from North America and, to a lesser extent, Europe. This is even true of free software. Somebody has probably already written in great detail why it is so, but it puzzles me, since barriers to entry are so low, and ease of global delivery so great, compared to almost any other high-technology product.

I wonder if one of these days some new company not steeped in the “hurry up and break things” startup culture, or the conservatism of IBM, SAP, etc., might start applying formal methods or even just the rigorous practices adopted by places like JPL for Martian rover software to produce low defect/high security versions of established software. Something that’s API compatible with Webkit but never gets bested at “Pwn2Own.” A JVM that has better security than a sieve. A formally verified Javascript engine, PDF renderer, and SIP VOIP client. I could see a company like this starting in India, China, or Russia and making sales simply on the basis of “no security headaches, no patch scheduling, lower long-term costs.” Actually demonstrating sufficient superiority so as to win large institutional customers is left as an exercise for the future software oligarchs. Unfortunately, home and small and medium business users will probably never buy “more secure, fewer bugs” over “new and improved.”

91

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 9:28 am

@89

Thanks, lupita. And yes, I know exactly what you mean.

92

Salient 06.15.13 at 3:35 pm

Anyone know of a better site than TPM? I’ve been reading it just for general political news, out of habit, but it’s time that habit changed.

Media Matters dot org for timely stenography , to replace the ‘oh my look what this person said’ posts, with far more updates. Washington Monthly dot com for the blog, to replace the chase-the-newsmedia-ball up-to-the-minute posts on whatever is getting everyone’s attention, with somewhat better attention to detail (also lets you relish the irony of a ‘Monthly’ source being more timely). The Raw Story, to replace the misc OMFG stuff to be pissed about and/or laugh at posts, with better emphasis on the latter (bonus points for also hosting Pandagon nowadays, with a new and better graphic and somewhat more active comments moderation, which were the only things Pandagon ever needed).

I dunno about how to replace the ‘letters to Josh Marshall’ posts, which are my only favorite thing about TPM (since Muckraker seems steadfastly determined to not live up to its potential, even if you apply a cynical interpretation of what that potential is). And of course there’s the Guardian & etc. for raw news reporting but TPM as a vetter isn’t really in competition with them.

Like freakin always, dammit, we’re still gonna have to read through TPM periodically over the coming months just to inform ourselves of the bullshit arguments we’re going to face from people who allege they’re our allies (for some reason I had really held out hope we wouldn’t be going to war in Syria, proxy or otherwise… god damn what the fuck fuck fuck).

93

Salient 06.15.13 at 3:42 pm

In exchange for the linkdump or for whatever, if anyone could offer one or more timely “here’s what we learned in our years of opposition to the Iraq War that will enable us to more effectively oppose the imminent Syria War” articles, I would be very grateful. I will buy you lunch, or something. There seems to be a distressing lack of guidance and insight about how to do things differently for people who would be very open to doing things differently. Three months from now we will have missed our change to get out in front of this…

94

Rich Puchalsky 06.15.13 at 4:46 pm

““here’s what we learned in our years of opposition to the Iraq War that will enable us to more effectively oppose the imminent Syria War” articles”

I don’t think that there is such an article, because if there was, we’d be doing it. The lessons of Iraq for anti-war people were mostly negative. I’ll sum them up, so that we can see whether there’s any reason why they’ve changed since then:

1. Protests don’t work

Protests against the Iraq War mobilized, worldwide, almost everyone who we could possibly get to mobilize for a war of this kind. The protests were ignored. You know what, I’m just going to list the other ones without an obvious little paragraph like this for each one.

2. Lobbying legislators doesn’t work
3. Having experts advise executives does not work
4. Appeals to cost do not work
5. Appeals to morality do not work
6. Scandals about government lying do not work
7. Appeals to preserve our armed forces do not work
8. Appeals to competence do not work
9. Attempts to restrain executives legislatively do not work
10. Attempts to restrain executives judicially do not work
11. Partisan opposition does work to a point, but not to the desired extent

So far, that list looks to me like working together with the GOP anti-Obamites is the only chance. Can you listen to diatribes about the Kenyan socialist without laughing? Consider it a sacrifice to save lives?

95

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 5:43 pm

Reinstating the draft might work. Fat chance of that, however, passing through both Houses.

96

Rich Puchalsky 06.15.13 at 6:50 pm

12. Attempts to heighten the contradictions do not work.

Vietnam did not actually have a lasting effect on America going to war. Even if the draft was somehow reinstated, I think that it’s quite likely that this would just result in people being drafted and sent off. The end result would be to make the draft unpopular again — but not to make war unpopular. The people who attempted this clever bank shot would end up having killed a lot of draftees and not accomplished much else.

97

roger nowosielski 06.15.13 at 7:01 pm

Yes, Rich, but think, on the other hand, of the combination of anti-Establishment factors which, when put together, did lead to a counter-culture revolution of the sixties; and the anti-war protest (certainly much more vocal and widespread then what we’ve experienced ever since), was one of the elements.

But of course this does not apply to today’s technologically-driven, drone-utilizing methods of warfare (like in our recent intervention in Libya), with no boots on the ground.

98

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 7:25 pm

97: Electronic warfare, electronic resistance

Think of yourself as a resistor in the current flow. Play with this metaphor.

99

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 8:10 pm

Or maybe just Bloom

Images of images, simulacra, there is no here there anymore, the center doesn’t hold, metaphor/metonymy is all we got.

Virag in Dublin? Exploded onion?

I like the algae. Excess of nutrients cause micro-organisms to float to the top depriving the eco-system of oxygen. Bright-green basking in the sun, limp father of thousands, a languid floating flower.

100

Terry 06.15.13 at 11:10 pm

@98: As I recall from 1967, Ω

101

rootless (@root_e) 06.15.13 at 11:27 pm

Rich Puchalsky 06.15.13 at 4:46 pm

But we do know what worked. Electing those horrible compromised neoliberal tools of bloodstained capitalism ended the US war in Iraq and prevented (delayed) the war in Iran.

And casting protest votes for Green candidates or sitting out the boring work of registering voters and running candidates _caused_ the war in Iraq.

It turns out that the political line of “voting is a fraud” is effective in helping the far right wing and maintain political power.

102

Andrew F. 06.15.13 at 11:41 pm

Rich, those seem like awfully broad conclusions to draw from a single historical case.

As to security, while it’s useful to have applications that are up to date, I wouldn’t underestimate the value of a secure operating system. As far as I can see, which on this subject isn’t far at all, malware relies on being able to execute within a particular OS.

As to Snowden and China… the facts feeding that kind of speculation are publicly known, i.e. the timing of his leaks, the location to which he chose to flee, and his recent disclosures to the South China Morning Post. These aren’t facts dragged from private emails or phone calls. They’re facts the public existence of which was chosen entirely by Snowden himself.

There is one fact that Snowden did not choose to disclose: his initial demand to The Washington Post that they include an encrypted message in their release, which could be decoded with Snowden’s private key and used to authenticate him to a foreign embassy as the source of the leaks.

Clearly Snowden has given some thought to his own future. That’s not surprising, although if he does defect to the PRC – a nation more intrusive and authoritarian than any in the West – it will be a repulsive, ugly act. It will also be foolish in a way perhaps not apparent to him. The PRC will view him as a useful traitor, nothing more. He won’t be admired, or appreciated; he’ll be viewed with well concealed derision, pumped dry, and then either turned over to the US anyway or placed in a well managed home of material comfort and utterly total state surveillance.

That’s a story mostly independent of the public value of what he’s leaked, but not entirely. The more self-interested he acts, the greater the likelihood that he exaggerated his knowledge, and the nature of the documents he provided, to The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Of course, there are other possibilities:
(i) he’s threatening to go to the PRC only to increase his leverage with the US,
(ii) his plan is to leak documents relevant to US surveillance, to harm US surveillance efforts, and then feed the PRC damaging disinformation to harm its surveillance efforts,
(iii) he had the idea to attempt to use PRC/US antagonism to protect himself after the leaks, but never fully developed the idea through the endgame, and is simply improvising at this point, trying to figure out what to do next.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. I hope that he’s bright enough to return to the US and attempt to use public opinion to protect himself. Relying on the PRC… well, as one Chinese saying has it, those who choose to ride the back of a tiger often end up inside.

103

bob mcmanus 06.15.13 at 11:45 pm

100: “And to name the chord is important to some.
So they give a word, and the word is OHM.”

Resistors cost more energy than they give, and usually produces more heat than light.

Capitalism has won. Neoliberalism has won the core, and is mopping up the periphery. Imperialism has won. There is nothing outside. Since capitalism is a stage, a totality of social relations, it mean accumulation has completely merged with social reproduction. Argument, antagonism, confrontation, opposition, organizing, resistance, voting, withdrawal, desertion, watching or creating the horrible spectacle, love, hate, kindness, cruelty…everything accumulates and reproduces capitalism. Full spectrum dominance.

Defeatism? Nope, triumph. There is still nothing left to do. Sit down in the Way.

104

Andrew F. 06.15.13 at 11:55 pm

According to new material declassified today by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

Intelligence officials say that fewer than 300 phone numbers were checked last year against the database of millions of U.S. phone records gathered daily by the NSA. Under the program, the records can only be examined for suspected connections to terrorism.

Also revealed: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reviews the two data-collection programs every 90 days, and the data gathered must be destroyed every five years.

The Washington Post

Not exactly the stuff of 1984.

105

roger nowosielski 06.16.13 at 12:31 am

@103

Looks like you’ve internalized the language of tiquun

106

Ronan(rf) 06.16.13 at 12:55 am

Thanks Bob (70) I’ll check it out

107

gordon 06.16.13 at 1:53 am

In the post, Chris Bertram laments the likely efforts of Governments and their allies to discredit “lawbreakers in pursuit of social justice”. Yes, but the greater threat to the sort of civil disobedience he is talking about isn’t the discrediting of the leadership by exposing their little weaknesses; it’s straightforward, old-fashioned repression by armed force. Rich Puchalsky says (at 94) “protests don’t work”. They surely don’t work if the protest is going to be kettled and then assaulted by armed police.

I find it especially surprising that Chris Bertram doesn’t mention this because he isn’t an American. It is America which has brought discrediting to an art form, and I think uses it much more than do the Europeans (including the British), but armed repression is used freely on both sides of the Atlantic. Surely it should be an American who worries more about discrediting, and a Britisher who worries more about force.

108

Lee A. Arnold 06.16.13 at 2:56 am

I was arrested with Wavy Gravy at an anti-nuclear protest (Abalone Alliance) at Diablo Canyon in 1977. He told me the next time, everybody in the protest should wear a Santa Claus suit — it would be world news. I thought that was a silly idea, but now I think he is absolutely right.

109

Lee A. Arnold 06.16.13 at 3:13 am

“I am a Marxist, of the Groucho sort.” — protester in Paris, 1968.

110

Lee A. Arnold 06.16.13 at 3:39 am

In my training to get arrested it was emphasized that there is no part in the code for “civil disobedience”. You have to break some other law (i.e. trespass, which is what we were doing). In fact, the Abalone Alliance, which was otherwise organized entirely decentrally as 10-15 member “affinity groups”, told the police exactly where the protesters would be entering the plant’s property. There were no surprises, and that keeps the cops civil. It is much better not to provoke violence. Then more people will want to join in the protest the next time. So you want lots of people, and they should be trained to make it slow and orderly. When the cops said, “Drop your stuff, and sit down,” we all did so. (When they picked up Wavy’s shoulder bag, the bag started laughing. The cops loved Wavy Gravy.) Nobody gets hurt, you spend a night in jail, you get booked, you pay a fine. The System will not be changed there and then. The point is to spread your message a little further. Nowadays the internet spreads messages pretty far anyway, and this new condition should be incorporated. So it is important to understand how much protest should be enjoyable and entertaining theatre. Make it so the cameras will love you; make it so MORE people want to join the next time. The problem with camping out forever (like Occupy) is this tactical mistake: camping out until “something happens” is a war of attrition that you cannot win. I learned that from seasoned veterans of the War Resister’s League and the American Friends Service Committee. Do not put yourself in a weak position. Have an end game, even if it is paying a fine. The problem with protesting any war (like Iraq) is that, at the beginning, most of the population is certain to go along with the gov’t on national security issues. Iraq (like Vietnam) only looked like a disaster after bloody years proved it to be almost useless.

111

Lee A. Arnold 06.16.13 at 3:42 am

Andrew F. #104 — Please explain why anyone who is not a complete dunce would believe what any government says about any national security issue.

112

Collin Street 06.16.13 at 4:42 am

@111: it’s more general than that: denials are never useful: the guilty and the innocent alike want to be thought innocent.

Not “they denied it, so they must be guilty”, but neither is it “they denied it, so they must be innocent”. Denials convey literally no information about the true state of affairs, should be entirely ignored.

This is the flipside of “shut up and get a lawyer”: just as you won’t do yourself any good by speaking on your own accord, you aren’t doing your enemies any good by getting them to speak on their own accord either.

113

roger nowosielski 06.16.13 at 5:30 am

@107, gordon

Why should an American worry less about use of brute force than a Britisher, especially since, as you say, we elevated it to an “art-form”?

Somehow, your logic escapes me.

114

gordon 06.16.13 at 11:10 am

roger novosielski (at 113) –

No, it’s discrediting that Americans have elevated to an art form.

115

jonnybutter2 06.16.13 at 1:25 pm

LAA @108 & 110. …it is important to understand how much protest should be enjoyable and entertaining theatre.

Yes, a thousand times. Becoming essentially humorless is a huge vulnerability – perspective, people! Being beaten/killed by the cops et. al. is just one way to make no progress. Being feckless can also result from you and your movement just being boring (including to yourselves).

116

Ronan(rf) 06.16.13 at 1:43 pm

Andrew @104

Is that the same declassified material mentioned here?

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-57589495-38/nsa-admits-listening-to-u.s-phone-calls-without-warrants/

117

Lee A. Arnold 06.16.13 at 3:06 pm

@115 — What is the issue, and what is the protest plan? In the case of anti-nuclear, Three Mile Island obviated further protest. In the case of Occupy, it was not boring but there was no tactical end game, so it looked like a failure. However, that story isn’t over: the rest of the population has not forgotten the outrageous behavior and favorite treatment of the financial system, and inequality is not abating. If inequality continues, there will be bigger protests in the future, but they may not be so peaceful. In the case of Istanbul, it sounds like Erdogan was willing to take the development of the park to a court decision, but the crowds grew spontaneously due to other grievances (they don’t like the encroachment of Islamism), then the police used agent provocateurs to disrupt the peaceful assembly, then sent in uniformed police. (I read a report that several police have committed suicide rather than comply. If true, that could be a sign that the disaster has only begun.)

118

jonnybutter2 06.16.13 at 5:43 pm

What is the issue, and what is the protest plan?

Yes. I like/liked Occupy, and absolutely do not mean to backbite. But, general strategy is good, albeit one subject to contingency-improvisation, etc. (In this case maybe it would have been better to announce that OWS was over for the moment, or something – easy for me to say).

My take is that there ought to be some fun involved. There is no natural mutual exclusion between entertainment and politics. Just the fact that it’s conventional wisdom that there is such a thing forfeits so much of the game. In fact, trying to segregate the two is unnatural, and ends up being bad for both. Entertainment doesn’t have to be overtly political, and political expression need not always be particularly entertaining, but deciding that they are mutually exclusive spheres is itself a political act.

119

bob mcmanus 06.16.13 at 6:54 pm

105: Looks like you’ve internalized the language of tiquun

A little, mostly because they agree with me, so they’re really smart and current.

Part of why I like tiqqun is my interest in post-Deleuze analysis, admitting that I don’t know my Althusser from a hole in the ground.

Oh no, not Rogoff* Deleuze, Deleuze thinks the rhizome surfs on top of the Real. There ain’t no Real. Ain’t no base and superstructure, all those dualities derive from mind-body split. Which, not coincidentally, at least in the West, can be dated to the beginning of liberalism and capitalism. Long story.

Anyway, the “proletarian consciousness” is one that recognizes that consumer-producer, worker-capitalist, subject-other, individual-community etc are delusions of capitalism. What else would socialism feel like? Long story. Spinoza not Descartes.

*Shocked and disappointed that nobody made that joke.

120

roger nowosielski 06.16.13 at 7:08 pm

Can you link me to a decent source for “post-Deleuze” analysis?

121

bob mcmanus 06.16.13 at 8:17 pm

120: Links aren’t posting

Thomas Lamarre

“And the distributive layering of the anime image affords a multiplex
interface with other media. Oddly, however, while the otaku is always
in touch (with the computer), he or she is always out of touch (with the
actual world). What does detachment mean in what looks more and
more like a regime of all-connectedness? Paradoxically, the otaku lays
bare the non-relation at the heart of the all-relatedness of information.
Potentially then, being otaku means to assert the right to non-communication
at the very centre of the communications revolution, to inscribe refusal in
the heart of work—which may involve a different sense of how one’s labour pays off.”

Or Just Google Naught Thought

” In effect, the parallel processes of actual and virtual maintain a destabilization of the procession of actualities, of the productivity of materiality which requires a middle ground between virtual and actual than is non-reductive but also non-magical, that is not too quick to jump into panpsychism or radical emergence. The only wide spread middle ground has been transcendental disjunction. It might be time to turn back to the cyborg and the hybrid. A self-critical, negativity embracing, cyborg. The it that thinks is an it that participates in actualization that is not the result of unbound thought nor already thinking materiality but trapped in ontological disjunctions/resistances that curb the dispositional nature of thought that is not different in kind from other powers and processes. The cyborg is the walking slide between grounds of powers.”

Walking slide = animetic, surfaces that negate depth. Haraway, Anno, Butler, Oshii, Azuma, Osawa

But I think you are just messing with me

122

bob mcmanus 06.16.13 at 8:30 pm

http://www.unemployednegativity.com/2013/06/please-stand-by-or-print-killed.html

I also really really like this guy, who is on hiatus while he completes a book for Historical Materialism publishing

123

roger nowosielski 06.16.13 at 8:57 pm

@121

No, I’m not. And thanks.

124

Andrew F. 06.17.13 at 11:56 am

Lee, how about government economics statistics? Lies too?

Of course you don’t – obviously there is a point at which disbelieving everything stated by the government comes to be ridiculous. So we have to look at the context in which the statements were made. It’s not enough to simply say “well of course the government has an interest in lying here.”

The information that less than 300 phone numbers were checked last year against the database was disclosed in direct response to an enormous amount of public attention and pressure. It was examined by a group of Senators from both political parties who have had information about this program for years, and which includes some of the most vocal opponents of this program. It is information that is easily verifiable as false or true.

It is also information that is easily detectable as false if the program as has been disclosed to the Committee for years were not as narrow as the “less than 300″ number implies.

Now, understandably some people are very committed to the belief that Snowden’s allegations are true. Any claim that they’re not is immediately discounted by them. Any problem with Snowden’s credibility – and those began as soon as his video was released – is discounted as well.

At this point, the evidence supports the following propositions better than any competitors:

(1) The metadata collection program entails the construction of a database of metadata, to be used for targeted searches, not broad social network analysis, much less the social network analysis of everyone opposed to US policies. It’s carefully monitored, disclosed regularly, reviewed by the courts regularly, and Congress has the ability to declassify material concerning it, or cut the purse strings, regularly.

(2) Last year there were less than 300 phone numbers, in total, checked against the database. However, we don’t know what “checked” means; I would guess that it means used as a starting point in an analysis.

(3) The procedures and oversight put in place after the controversy surrounding the “terrorist surveillance program” seem to be working. There are no allegations of impropriety; all the parties who should have been informed, were informed; and the rebuke to Snowden’s description of these programs has been sharp and bipartisan.

(4) Snowden has now also released details about US intelligence operations against China, and has released details about UK/US attempts to eavesdrop on foreign diplomats and foreign government officials (the latter just published today).

(5) Snowden, according to some at The Guardian, has released hundreds or thousands of top secret documents to them.

(6) Everything that has followed the release of the court order for metadata has either been misleading (PRISM) or simply provides details of lawful espionage activities (e.g. the UK/US attempt to eavesdrop on foreign diplomats).

(7) Snowden can no longer be reasonably described as a whistle-blower, since most of the activities he’s releasing aren’t remotely illegal.

(8) Unless Snowden takes the brave and intelligent step of returning to the US, I have to conclude that he’s a system administrator without any real understanding of the documents he’s leaking, whose narcissism and consistent perception of being unappreciated for his genius has led him at last to attempt the ultimate “I told you so.” In other words, if he doesn’t return to the US, he’ll confirm himself as nothing more than a self-interested traitor. Of course, he may already be in PRC custody, in which case after copying his data in readable form, they’ll hand him back to the US.

125

Barry 06.17.13 at 4:49 pm

Andrew F. 06.17.13 at 11:56 am

” Lee, how about government economics statistics? Lies too? “

Andrew, please stop being such a bullsh*tter, for once. Most government statistics are far, far, far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far,far, far more auditable than secret government programs.

126

Andrew F. 06.17.13 at 7:21 pm

Barry, yes the government is capable of auditing those statistics. And as I said in my comment, context matters. At a certain point we pass from reasonable suspicion to a self-serving paranoia. Much of the scoffing at quite literally everything released from the government which contradicts Snowden consists of the defensive knee-jerk reactions of minds that do not want relinquish an emotionally laden belief.

Indeed, speaking of the emotionally laden, most of what I read from Greenwald (and now Snowden, who appears to have picked up a few talking points from Greenwald) consists of angry denunciations of government releases as typical government deception. “Oh they always say that!” Yes, sometimes government has been deceptive – but refusing to give any credence at all to information they release at this point is a play deeply familiar to every conspiracy theorist.

This is the problem with an activist like Greenwald who masquerades as a journalist, incidentally. He’s so emotionally invested in a story, so sensitive to the political impact of whether the initial story was true or false, so eager to discover his own ideological struggle within the events he investigates, that he’s unable to assess dispassionately and especially unable to alter his stance in response to new, inconvenient, facts.

For me, the story on the metadata was, and is, of great significance. PRISM would have been of great significance, had Snowden’s claims about it (about which the documents were ambiguous) been true. But as we’ve learned more about the program, Greenwald hasn’t been able to adjust his narrative; in fact he’s constructed lengthy essays as to why his initial story is completely correct. He’s acting as a zealous attorney might in front of a judge, expanding his list of arguments in the face of new facts and refusing to concede anything at all that might injure his client. In the legal process, the negative effect of appearing unreasonable is somewhat mitigated by the expectation that an attorney stretch arguments to help the client if necessary; but even then, only somewhat, and in the realm of journalism that effect is not mitigated at all.

A reasonable person should be able to view the very carefully worded statements from the government and the denials of the tech companies with skepticism, but should also be able to view Snowden with skepticism as well. One should understand why a company might craft a denial so narrowly that even while it sounds like a denial, it’s not; and one should understand why a person like Snowden might exaggerate his own importance and his own power as he trades his information for publicity.

127

john c. halasz 06.17.13 at 7:45 pm

Barry, you’re a bad, bad boy!

128

The Elephant Hunter 06.17.13 at 9:30 pm

This is the problem with an activist like Greenwald….

Unless you’re talking about gay marriage, he’s not an activist. Saying what’s dead-obvious and old news, safely behind the curve, while writing/talking in TV Lawyer-ese doesn’t make one an activist.

I suppose Greenwald could be an “activist” for the cause of ILDBBTIIJ (Incompetent Lawyers Doing Banal Twittering Instead of Investigative Journalism). Maybe you meant that?

Or did you just assume:

(A) because he calls himself a “constitutional lawyer,” he must be an expert on civil rights;

(B) because he had two Blame The Republicans! books published, he is an expert on American political wrangling;

(C) because he’s really popular now, he must be incredibly wise;

(D) because he knows a smidgen more about the law than Karl Rove did, he is the finest legal mind in America.

Please choose one.

129

Walt 06.18.13 at 12:34 pm

Congressional oversight of the intelligence community is so terrific that we’re not allowed to know how it works. At least there’s some hope that Josh Marshall will learn something from this. Andrew F I’m not so sure.

130

Anarcissie 06.18.13 at 3:34 pm

131

Andrew F. 06.18.13 at 3:50 pm

Ronan @116, that article leaves out the full context of Nadler’s remarks. Nadler went on to express uncertainty about whether an analyst could listen to domestic phone calls without a warrant. Nadler later clarified that he believes that the NSA cannot listen without a warrant and does not listen without a warrant: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/305855-house-dem-nsa-cant-listen-to-calls-without-warrants

Walt, the procedures and powers of the committees that oversee intelligence are well specified in law and have been well described by those who sit on those committees. That a former staffer was not permitted to discuss specific events and documents as a result of her non-disclosure agreement doesn’t mean we don’t know how it works.

The most recent revelations from Snowden are that the NSA conducts intelligence operations against some Chinese computers – which he objects to because he believes the computers targeted are “not military targets” which is a bizarre misapplication of the laws restricting the military use of lethal force to ordinary intelligence work – and that the British and the US tried to spy on foreign diplomats and officials. He objects to the latter because “we’re not at war” with the countries we spied on.

It’s hard to take his objections at face value. They’re too ridiculous. A strong explanation is that they’re simply attempts to conceal a more pragmatic reason for the recent two leaks: to increase his value to countries such as Russia and China.

The story waiting to be written is how exactly Snowden, Greenwald and others at The Guardian, and Laura Poitras, an activist documentary film producer, have collaborated, and the degree to which the journalists are aware of what Snowden may be doing.

132

Barry 06.18.13 at 4:00 pm

Andrew f: ” That a former staffer was not permitted to discuss specific events and documents as a result of her non-disclosure agreement doesn’t mean we don’t know how it works.”

To a large degree, it does.

133

Barry 06.18.13 at 4:09 pm

Andrew F: “Barry, yes the government is capable of auditing those statistics. “

Comprehension isn’t your strong suite, is it? My point was the different branches of the government can audit them, people who aren’t working for the government can discuss the methods, and the results can be compared to private sector data, for many things.

The equivalent here would be (for example) if the existence of the Census Dept was known, but almost nothing was known about what surveys and studies were done, let alone how they were done. Employees who discussed the existence of surveys and studies would be harshly punished; the press might or might not publish such details. Only a few Senators would be briefed, after being cleared for Census access by the Census. They’d be verbally briefed, couldn’t tell their staff or even take notes. There would be zero judicial overview, except for a few secret Census Courts, whose judges had to have Census Clearance (which would be granted or denied by the Census, with no reason given).

Now, I know that not understanding things is your strong suite, but have a random person on the street explain it to you.

134

Bruce Wilder 06.18.13 at 4:18 pm

steve randy waldman, highly recommended:

http://www.interfluidity.com/v2/4422.html

135

Andrew F. 06.18.13 at 6:02 pm

Barry, if you’re going to be rude, at least try to use the correct words. It’s “suit” not “suite”. A few notes:

1 – federal judges do not need to obtain clearance before viewing classified material. Neither do members of Congress.

2 – the purpose of the government stats example is to illustrate that establishing a motive to lie isn’t sufficient to establish a deception; we use context – including how well a given statement coheres with other knowledge (such as private estimates in the case of government economic stats) to determine whether a statement is credible. In the case of the recent releases about surveillance programs, that context includes continuing legislative and judicial oversight and (now) enormous public attention.

3 – you write that “there’d be zero judicial overview, except for a few secret…courts….” How many independent courts do you need before you think that there’s judicial review? Search warrants are reviewed by one judge, unless the evidence obtained is used at a criminal trial and the legitimacy of the warrant is challenged. And lots of things in court are reviewed in secret, whether that court be the FISC or a local state court.

4 – information regarding these programs has been made available to every member of Congress. The Senate Intelligence Committee can declassify and publish material as it sees fit.

5 – there have now been public hearings on various aspects of these programs.

At this point, we’re going in circles, so I’ll bow out of the thread. Given Snowden’s recent two disclosures, and what we’ve learned about him, I suspect that any other leaks from him will continue to involve legitimate operations by the NSA. That’s good news for any person, and any nation, adversarial to the United States and its allies. It’s bad news for everyone else.

This isn’t the Pentagon Papers, and this isn’t Watergate. This isn’t any kind of reasonable civil disobedience. This isn’t whistle-blowing. This seems now to be a very misguided enterprise of self-aggrandizement, possibly aided by questionable journalistic practices. My hope is that Snowden realizes that while the leak of the metadata court order is somewhat defensible, his recent two leaks are not – and that he returns to the US, returns the focus to the metadata program, and eases some of the pain he’s no doubt caused to his family and others who love him. He can likely have a very fulfilling life as an anti-surveillance activist, with an army of volunteer lawyers to defend him and crowds of ardent supporters. If he returns voluntarily, he stands the chance of some leniency at sentencing; indeed, if he’s smart, he may even be negotiating now for the conditions under which he would return. Certainly, the chance he has of that life is better than the grim emptiness that awaits him if he stays out in the cold.

136

Ronan(rf) 06.18.13 at 6:39 pm

From the Steve Randy Waldman link:

“It pains me very much to say so, but the United States today is not a benign community. We have, over the last decade, undermined nearly all of the reasons that I, perhaps as a fool, thought distinguished us as virtuous, in our own particular way, despite our many flaws. A decade ago, I trusted our institutions, our government, our think tanks and university and third estate….”

FFS

137

Barry 06.18.13 at 6:41 pm

Andrew F. 06.18.13 at 6:02 pm

” Barry, if you’re going to be rude, at least try to use the correct words. It’s “suit” not “suite”. A few notes:”

Thanks! I’ll skip a whole bunch of things where you assert that uncleared people have access to top secret/compartmented information (1), (4), your interesting ideas on judicial independence (3), your absolute refusal to comprehend the point (2) , and leap right into your climactic paragraph:

“This isn’t the Pentagon Papers, and this isn’t Watergate. This isn’t any kind of reasonable civil disobedience. This isn’t whistle-blowing. “

Assertion without proof, although perhaps you could pull the current journalistic ‘ethic’ that leaks unauthorized by the powers that be are different from authorized, leaks. Or even better, since you’re almost there, pull the double spin of ‘Nothing new, everybody knew about it’ combined with ‘He’s a traitor for revealing classified information’.

“This seems now to be a very misguided enterprise of self-aggrandizement, possibly aided by questionable journalistic practices. “

Unlike every other leaker and printer of leaks in history.

“My hope is that Snowden realizes that while the leak of the metadata court order is somewhat defensible, his recent two leaks are not – and that he returns to the US, returns the focus to the metadata program, and eases some of the pain he’s no doubt caused to his family and others who love him.”

You’ve got to be kidding.

“He can likely have a very fulfilling life as an anti-surveillance activist, with an army of volunteer lawyers to defend him and crowds of ardent supporters. If he returns voluntarily, he stands the chance of some leniency at sentencing; indeed, if he’s smart, he may even be negotiating now for the conditions under which he would return. Certainly, the chance he has of that life is better than the grim emptiness that awaits him if he stays out in the cold.”

This takes it from ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ to ‘do you think that everybody here is an idiot?’.

138

Lee A. Arnold 06.18.13 at 6:51 pm

Andrew F. #124 : “government statistics… we have to look at the context in which the statements were made… the evidence supports the following propositions better than any competitors”

There will NOT be any competitors who are able to provide independent verification. The context in which the statements are made is usually called “national security”. No statistic, from any source, should be believed without the possibility of widespread, independent verification.

All you have are competing claims to trust. You are not required to support Snowden, nor to support what he has done, nor to agree with Greenwald. It is easy enough to see what is going on: we are in a state that is claiming to be at war. Well over half the population is more than inclined to agree. Under such conditions, truth is a secondary concern. Remember Vietnam.

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