The Liberal Surveillance State

by Henry on January 19, 2014

Long time readers of Sean Wilentz will remember him for greatest hits like his notorious piece on the “cutthroat, fraudulent politics that lie at the foundation of Obama’s supposedly uplifting campaign,” involving “the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states’ rights,” or his claim that not only was Obama’s “most obvious change to liberal politics” the color of his skin, but Obama was the second coming of Jimmy Carter and a starry-eyed Russia-hugger to boot. So it’s very, very weird to see Wilentz criticizing Edward Snowden on the grounds that his “disgruntlement with Obama … was fueled by a deep disdain for progressive politics” – given his own track record on Obama’s brand of progressivism, why on earth would he believe this to be a problem?

But then the whole article – an attempted hack job on Snowden, Greenwald, Assange and the liberals who like them – is weird like that. In one sense, I can understand why the New Republic went for it – it’s perhaps the purest exercise in even~the~liberal~New Republic~ism that the magazine has published since its change in ownership. Yet it’s also so obviously intellectually shoddy and incoherently argued that you’d have thought that any half-way competent editor would have decided that no amount of contrarianism was worth the damage to the magazine’s brand.

Wilentz’s self-appointed task is clear enough – he wants to tell liberals why they shouldn’t trust the hidden agenda of people like Snowden, Greenwald and Assange. The problems come in the execution.

The article comes in three main parts. First – the promise:

Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange hardly subscribe to identical beliefs, and differ in their levels of sophistication. They have held, at one time or another, a crazy-quilt assortment of views, some of them blatantly contradictory. But from an incoherent swirl of ideas, a common outlook emerges … paranoid libertarianism … Where liberals, let alone right-wingers, have portrayed the leakers as truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state and the Constitution from authoritarian malefactors, that’s hardly their goal. In fact, the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it.

Then the evidence – a detailed examination of Snowden, Greenwald and Assange’s views, or at least those views as Wilentz would like to portray them. Finally, the argument, that these views add up to a pernicious political philosophy that no self-respecting liberal ought to sign up for.

The problem is that these don’t add up. Wilentz promises us evidence that the leakers want to damage the liberal state. Moreover, he tells us that he has evidence that has gone mysteriously ignored up to this point.

important caches of evidence have gone largely unexamined by the media. … The Internet houses a variety of their writings for message boards, blogs and magazines …. They are documents in which one can glimpse their deepest beliefs and true motives. What they reveal is at odds with the flattering coverage … [t]hey reveal an agenda that even the leakers’ most dedicated admirers should question.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Wilentz actually provides. Instead of providing evidence that would support an analysis of his targets’ ‘agenda,’ ‘deepest beliefs’ and ‘true motives,’ he provides a trio of successive lengthy laundry lists of everything that his three targets have ever said or done that might even possibly embarrass them in front of a liberal audience. Thus, we are treated to hitherto largely-unexamined-by-the-media facts such as the revelations that Snowden is a Rand Paul fan and libertarian, that Julian Assange not only is a bit of an arsehole, but is facing rape charges has been accused of rape in Sweden, and that Glenn Greenwald likes to get into arguments.

The three narratives are larded with minatory innuendo. That Snowden writes about liking his gun hints at his ‘developing affinities.’ That Glenn Greenwald took pro-bono free speech cases on behalf of a variety of unpleasant people shows that his “true passion [is] defending the civil liberties of extremists.” Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with defending these people’s constitutional liberties of course, as Wilentz grudgingly acknowledges after a few paragraphs of loving description detailing precisely how unpleasant some of Greenwald’s clients were. And of course, there’s lots of juicy stuff in the section on Assange, where Wilentz uses Assange’s dodgy alliance building to sort-of-sidle-up-real-close to the ‘it’s all a Russian plot, of course’ line that various cranks have been pushing on the Internet.

What is rather conspicuously lacking is any evidence that these people (and it is interesting, as an aside, that Chelsea Manning’s fate and motivation don’t even get a mention) are dead-set on their joint goal of “wound[ing] the liberal state.” Snowden, as you’d expect from a Paulite, doesn’t like welfare. Greenwald has made some very unfortunate statements about immigrants. Assange’s politics are whatever Assange’s politics are. But these do not, under any reasonable interpretation, add up to a sekrit shared agenda of trying to take down the liberal state as it’s usually understood. None of the revelations to date have had any relevance whatsoever to welfare or immigration policy, let alone dire implications for them. Somehow, I suspect that none of the future revelations will either. If imaginary-Edward-Snowden were running for the Senate, and I was thinking about whether to vote for him, I’d find his views on welfare very, very relevant. Since actual-Edward-Snowden is running from the government for leaking security information … not so much.

All this leaves Wilentz with the unenviable task of demonstrating that despite all the appearances, pushing back against the security state is an anti-liberal agenda. He accomplishes this through an intellectual sleight of hand, wherein the “liberal state” of the opening sections is magically transformed into the “national security state” that Greenwald et al. are setting out to “sabotage.” As best as I can tell, the justification for this transposition is this:

The leakers and their supporters, however, see things very differently. To them, national security is not a branch of government: it is the government, or it is tantamount to being the government: a sinister, power-mad authority. As Greenwald has argued: “The objective of the NSA and the US government is nothing less than destroying all remnants of privacy. They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another, things that we say to one another, things that we do with one another, places we go, the behavior in which we engage, that they know about it.” It is impossible, therefore, to reform this clandestine Leviathan from the inside. And so the leakers are aimed at de-legitimating and, if possible, destroying something much larger than a set of NSA programs. They have unleashed a torrent of classified information with the clear intent of showing that the federal government has spun out of control, therefore destroying the public’s faith in their government’s capacity to spy aggressively on our enemies while also protecting the privacy of its citizens.”

This paragraph is the cornerstone of the big, teetering edifice that Wilentz is trying to construct. And it’s made out of straw and horseshit. Apparently, either Wilentz didn’t read any further down in the transcript that he is quoting from, or he decided, for whatever reason, that the further elaboration of Greenwald’s argument was irrelevant or unhelpful to his readers. What Greenwald goes on to say:

This is exactly the kind of debate that we ought to have out in the open. What exactly is the government doing in how it spies on us and how it reads our emails and how it intercepts our chats? Let’s have that discussion out in the open. To the extent that these companies and the NSA have a conflict and can’t get their story straight, let them have that conflict resolved in front of us. And then we, as citizens, instead of having this massive surveillance apparatus built completely secretly and in the dark without us knowing anything that’s going on, we can then be informed about what kinds of surveillance the government is engaged in and have a reasoned debate about whether that’s the kind of world in which we want to live.

You can, if you want, depict this as willful efforts to destroy trust in the federal government’s spying and surveillance. But calls for having “conflicts [in different actors’ accounts] resolved” in public and “reasoned debate” are not, under any reasonable definition efforts ‘paranoid libertarian’ attacks on liberalism. They are what democratic liberalism, as it is usually understood, is supposed to be all about – active debate by an informed public over what it wants the government to do and not to do. It’s only by magically eliding liberalism into the need for a surveillance state that Wilentz can get where he wants to go to. But at best that kind of elision begs a lot of fundamental questions. At worst, it involves willful and active dishonesty.

It also relies on a quite extraordinary blindness. Wilentz sneers at the claim that the US is “an imperial power, drunk on its hegemonic ambitions.” But his evidence that this is “simply not the case” solely and exclusively involves surveillance of US citizens (where his claims seem to me to be inaccurate, but that’s a different matter). Yet if one looks at the US reaction to the Snowden revelations, a reaction that Wilentz glosses over as pursuit of a “serious criminal,” there’s plenty of evidence both of imperialism and hegemonic drunkenness. These not only include the apparent threats of retaliation against any country against any country that even slightly cares about the goodwill of the US, and might be so impudent as to give Snowden exile, but the decision to get US allies to force down the plane of a head of state on the mere suspicion that Snowden might be on board. It’s hard for me to see this as anything other than arrogant, drunken imperialism, but likely my cynicism just reveals my sneaky illiberalism. Wilentz goes on to deplore how Snowden has damaged the credibility of US influence over the Internet by revealing that “the US was manipulating the Internet for its own nefarious means.” But, rather obviously, the US was manipulating the Internet (and, for that matter, fundamental cryptographic standards) for its own nefarious means. That’s the kind of thing that power-drunk hegemons do.

There’s space for argument and debate over whether what Snowden did was right or wrong, good or bad. There’s also, very obviously, space for criticizing Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange as writers, as activists, as whatever. FWIW, I’m not, for many reasons, a fan of Assange, I’ve had the odd run-in with Greenwald, and I doubt I’d agree with much of Snowden’s politics beyond his skepticism of the security state (which probably goes a lot further than mine – I’m OK with e.g. many forms of spying on China and Russia). But what Wilentz is engaged in isn’t expression of disagreement, or real argument, or intelligent criticism. It’s shoddy hackwork, a kind of underpants gnome reasoning, in which Wilentz starts from evidence that Greenwald, Snowden and Assange have a common goal (as they surely do) of weakening the surveillance state, claims that this entails that they are really out to wound the liberal state, and tries to slap together the missing argumentative bridgework between these very different claims with expostulation, innuendo, arm-waving, personal attacks and whatever else he can throw in that he thinks might be damaging. It’s sad to see someone who considers himself (and is considered by many of his colleagues) to be a serious historian shoveling this kind of tripe in public; it’s the sort of thing that gives public intellectualism a bad name. A sorry affair, altogether.

{ 610 comments }

1

Plume 01.19.14 at 7:38 pm

Wilentz would have a better argument if he said that pushing back against the growing power of the security state was absolutely warranted. A societal good. And that whistleblowers are heroes, etc. But he should then add that Greenwald and company generally forget the other half of the problem: the private sector. Which, actually, controls the government and basically created the security state for its own profit.

I’ve read GG for a long time, and that has always been a big blind spot for him. As it is for pretty much all right-wing libertarians. Though GG’s politics are mixed and include left-wing vision in some cases. They tend toward monomania against “government” per se, while letting business off the hook repeatedly.

Notice that Assange and Snowden had virtually zero big bombshells regarding corporate malfeasance. It was all about government. And that’s fine, as long as someone else is picking up the slack and doing a kind of “wikileaks” involving corporate America and capitalism in general. If it’s just government, it tells us little we didn’t already know. And I suspect government is there as a kind of buffer and fall guy for corporate interests anyway, and the powers that be are fine with all the focus on government, etc. In fact, they set it up that way.

For all the sturm and drang, the powers that be are laughing all the way to the bank. Their asses are still covered. Government officials are nothing but sacrificial lambs, etc.

Bottom line: We need whistleblowers in both the public and private sectors. We seem to only get them in the public.

2

William Timberman 01.19.14 at 7:46 pm

The confusion about which is the liberal state and which the surveillance state/drunken hegemon afflicted the New Republic long before Greenwald, Assange, Snowden, et al. appeared at the scene of Wilentz’s dismay. Since the present ownership took over, engendering that confusion has, in fact, been the New Republic’s entire raison d’être.

3

Contrarily 01.19.14 at 7:49 pm

@Plume

Notice that Assange and Snowden had virtually zero big bombshells regarding corporate malfeasance. It was all about government

This is not true, as any perusal of the WikiLeaks archives demonstrates.

Their first big scoop was on Bank Julius Baer.

4

Plume 01.19.14 at 7:52 pm

Wilentz has changed, too, from his days writing for Dissent. He seems to have moved to the right. Sad that there are so many former leftists. They were correct (right) the first time.

5

Glenn Greenwald 01.19.14 at 7:54 pm

I’ve read GG for a long time, and that has always been a big blind spot for him. As it is for pretty much all right-wing libertarians. Though GG’s politics are mixed and include left-wing vision in some cases. They tend toward monomania against “government” per se, while letting business off the hook repeatedly.

This is one of those critiques that genuinely baffles me. I devoted two years of my life to trying to defeat retroactive immunity for US telecoms. I was one of the earliest and most vocal defenders of Occupy Wall Street. I wrote an entire book in 2011 which had – as one of its main arguments – that Wall Street executives should have been prosecuted for the systematic fraud that precipitated the 2008 crises. I’ve written endlessly on the toxic influence of corporate lobbying on government policy.

And many of the stories we’ve reported over the last seven months were all about corporate malfeasance in the surveillance state, including PRISM, Microsoft, Facebook and others.

It’s true that I’ve focused more on government abuses than private-sector ones, but that’s just a matter of focus: that’s true of most civil libertarians by definition (look, for instance, at the ACLU). But I’ve done a lot of work – a lot – aimed at corporations as well.

Notice that Assange and Snowden had virtually zero big bombshells regarding corporate malfeasance. It was all about government.

People can only leak what they have. Snowden worked inside the government, and WikiLeaks’ big leaker happened to be in the U.S. Army. Still, this just isn’t true. A lot of WikiLeaks’ early disclosures had to do with things like corporate waste dumping in Africa and other private-sector malfeasance. Meanwhile, many of the disclosures Snowden enabled – including some of the biggest – were about the culpable role played by Silicon Valley in compromising the privacy of their customers.

6

Plume 01.19.14 at 7:55 pm

Also, it’s democracy in need of defending. Not the liberal state. Especially not the surveillance state. The surveillance state implies the loss of democracy.

To the degree that it goes against democracy, the liberal state is illegitimate and shouldn’t be defended.

7

SusanC 01.19.14 at 8:02 pm

@Plume.

I think there was a big revelation of corporate malfeasance in the Snowden leaks, and it was the extent to which there was conspiracy/collusion between the intelligence agencies and private industry. RSA Data Security Inc. is most obviously in the frame here, with the big question being whether they knowingly took a bribe to undermine the security of their software product, or were “merely” incompetent in an area where they were previously regarded as experts. But there are open questions about other industry players, too.

Snowden himself might not view it this way, but I think the conclusion we should be drawing from his revelations is that the “government bad, private industry good” narrative (or vice-versa, in Europe) no longer makes sense, because the military have secretly taken over critical parts of private industry, by some combination of court orders and just bribing people. (And conversely, I’m worrying about what private industry was bribed with — a 10 million dollar bribe is one thing; if the quid pro quo in other instances was that private industry got some return favor from the miltary or the justice department[*], that’s maybe worse).

[*] e.g. a deal along the lines of “just insert this security bug in your software, and we’ll stop prosecuting you for this criminal thing we caught you doing”. No evidence if this yet. Maybe we’ll see it.

8

Contrarily 01.19.14 at 8:05 pm

@Plume

WikiLeaks last two big releases have been on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. They have published two leaked chapters of it, and have criticized both the governments involved in negotiating it and the private special interest groups and industrial giants that have captured the process. Their stance has been pro-environment, anti-globalization and anti-corporate.

There has been a popular undercurrent in commentary lately in US liberal circles (see NSFWcorp pieces by Mark Ames) that tries to identify Assange and Greenwald with Rand Paul, but a glance at the actual politics of either party over the years shows that this is misleading and inaccurate.

Whatever about the quasi-libertarian aspect to the online politics of characters like Assange and other cypherpunks (and that is definitely there) I think it is false to say that WikiLeaks politics have been identifiably libertarian. I think the common thread to all of their stuff has been the primacy of publics rather than of the individual, and the presumption in favour of public knowledge. That commitment is something, I hope, everyone can get behind.

Robert Manne had a great piece on Assange’s politics and I think Henry does Assange a disservice by saying his politics are not coherent. He doesn’t have a very broad political orientation but zero in on his issues and you’ll find him to be a solid thinker. As Manne points out in his fascinating essay, it is a strange sort of libertarian that takes a pro-union stance, as Assange does, and unpopularly in the libertarian circles he used to move in. But the quoted passage indicates that Assange is anything but one of these crass Ayn Randian individualists.

9

Donald Johnson 01.19.14 at 8:06 pm

I have Wilentz’s “The Rise of American Democracy” sitting on my shelves mostly unread. Is it worth reading? I imagine someone here has read it. Wilentz, as shown here, pops up every so often sounding like some drunken crackpot I wonder if he manages to separate his weird politics from his work as a historian.

10

SoU 01.19.14 at 8:20 pm

2 things –

first – in what world do people think that arguments amounting to “y’know person X you think did a Good Thing, well they aren’t a saint!” is a convincing argument? this sort of criticism measuring you against some standard of perfect ideological purity says more about the author than the subject of discussion, imho.

second – and forgive me for my youth here – but isn’t this just the proto-typical New Republic line on these sorts of things? i haven’t been keyed in to the NY culture industry for too many years now, but this seems pretty par for the course for them by my understanding. was there a time when we would expect different from this outfit? i mean, haven’t peretz and wieseltier maintained editorial control of that rag for decades now? what was the ‘change in ownership’ that Henry refers to early in the OP, was that the change?

11

Contrarily 01.19.14 at 8:20 pm

I agree with some other posters here in trying to break the rather facile…

you’re either a pro-state liberal or a pro-corporate right winger

…canard that seems to be the unspoken assumption of much of this one-dimensional liberal commentary.

The tendency to treat political orientations that are orthogonal to this stupid dichotomy is extremely damaging to American political discussion.

Making the state more democratic is certainly orthogonal to this small-minded, partisan political spectrum. Someone concerned with a democracy deficit will tend to view big state liberals as having an authoritarian streak, and fringe libertarians as saboteurs of democratic institutions.

Ultimately, both of these groups meet in the middle, because if anything is clear from the last several years of leaks, it is that our societies suffer from both an unaccountable, authoritarian and undemocratic government and an overbearing corporate system. Collusion across this line is in large part the problem. It is problematic to examine this problem through the red/blue 3D-glasses of contemporary American politics.

It would help if our commentators could see fit to being a little bit more sophisticated on these issues.

12

Bruce Wilder 01.19.14 at 8:23 pm

The Liberal State is dead.

It is just a memory and a faded, peeling label for a far more authoritarian apparatus.

13

LFC 01.19.14 at 8:23 pm

Having read the OP but not Wilentz’s full article, I’d say the OP does a good job of criticizing Wilentz’s logic, or lack thereof. Wilentz perhaps thinks there’s some integral connection between “the liberal state” and “the surveillance state,” such that you can’t have one without the other, but that would be sort of a challenging argument to try to make, which is apparently why he doesn’t try to make it, preferring the sorts of rhetorical moves described in the OP.

A more straightforward line by Wilentz would have been: “A ‘liberal state’ needs to do some kinds of surveillance in today’s world. Snowden, Assange, and Greenwald are opposed to all government surveillance. Therefore their aim is to eliminate an essential function of ‘the liberal state,’ which in turn would weaken ‘the liberal state’ itself.” But apparently that’s not how Wilentz frames his argument.

14

SoU 01.19.14 at 8:28 pm

yeah Contrarily @ 8 raises a good point – libertarian political philosophy cannot be reduced to or even honestly likened to the self-professed libertarian-ism of select US political figures. the latter espouse any number of absurd positions which directly contradict the basic tenants of libertarian politics, such as their statist approach to women’s healthcare.
lest we forget, ‘libertarian’ means more than just ‘get the state outta my backyard’. Chomsky frequently identifies as a libertarian, for example. the tradition is a long one and libertarian issues are pretty much orthogonal to a lot of traditionally conceived left-right political debates.

15

Henry 01.19.14 at 8:30 pm

What Glenn says seems to me to be absolutely fair. Also, it is interesting to see how Europeans are using the NSA controversy to try to push forward legislation that is primarily aimed at curtailing the ways in which business can use personal data. See e.g. this speech today by Commissioner Reding.

16

SoU 01.19.14 at 8:31 pm

@11 – didn’t see that when made last post, but way to take the words right out of my mouth. uncanny.

17

Metatone 01.19.14 at 8:32 pm

Sort of along the lines of Plume – what’s with this weird assumption amongst right-wingers that people to the left of them love the state in all it’s forms?

Just because I think government can do good things and is worth funding in a manner that gives it the resources to do a lot of good doesn’t mean I have no list of things the government does badly and should be investigated/reformed/given more transparency.

18

Straightwood 01.19.14 at 8:36 pm

It’s as though a desperate all-points bulletin has been issues by the powers that be to take down Snowden and his supporters. Fortunately, it is not working, and this represents a turning point in the battle between state propaganda and independent voices. Even if no reforms whatever result from Snowden’s disclosures, he has demonstrated that a courageous individual cannot be stopped from blowing a whistle in the Internet Age.

Regarding the debate over “libertarian” leanings in anti-establishment activism, it seems that the existing taxonomy for political orientation is insufficient to discuss the emerging ideologies that are reflected in the Snowden affair. Because academics are so heavily invested in the alchemical nomenclature of traditional political science, they are reluctant to define new elements of political theory that would enable more constructive analysis and discussion.

Trying to place Snowden’s political motivations on a Left-Right spectrum is like explaining a chemical reaction with elements of air, earth, fire and water.

19

LFC 01.19.14 at 8:40 pm

@SoU
haven’t peretz and wieseltier maintained editorial control of that rag for decades now? what was the ‘change in ownership’ that Henry refers to early in the OP, was that the change?
I believe the change referred to is the fact that Chris Hughes now owns The New Republic. Wieselter still works there, afaik, but I read NR only on fairly rare occasion. I think Peretz still blogs on the NR site but not sure.

P.s. on my earlier comment: I wasn’t nec. saying I wd agree w the suggested reformulated Wilentz line. Just that it wd be a more honest, straightforward approach.

20

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.19.14 at 8:42 pm

Frankly, no one has wounded liberalism more than Obama. Not even Bill Clinton.

Sad thing: neither of them are liberals.

A fact that the Fred Hiatts of the world want no one to know, but people who ARE liberals ought to be doing their damnedest to make clear.
~

21

Marc 01.19.14 at 8:43 pm

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Greenwald has an extremely deep personal animus towards Obama that is apparent in everything that he writes and says. This does not make him automatically wrong, but it does certainly bear on his ability to interpret motive and makes him very far from a neutral observer. Similarly, Snowden revealed not just domestic surveillance but also foreign espionage – of a type very similar to that performed by other intelligence agencies. I think that it’s fair to look at this asymmetry and conclude that there is something more than an anti-spying agenda is operating; I can see a strong anti-American impulse operating as well.

When you add in blind spots on minority civil rights and expressed sympathy for reactionary figures in US politics – like Rand Paul – it is possible to construct an argument where Greenwald et al. are acting as enablers for domestic right-wingers. It’s certainly no less fair to them than their twisted interpretations of Obamas’ motives are to him.

22

LFC 01.19.14 at 8:45 pm

Donald Johnson @9
To your question: I haven’t read much (virtually none, in fact) of Wilentz’s historical work but he’s considered a very good historian. (He also managed to slip a bk on Bob Dylan somewhere in there, iirc.)

23

LFC 01.19.14 at 8:48 pm

If comments 20 and 21 are any indication, this thread is going to turn into yet another Obama-is-a-liberal/progressive-no-he-isn’t thing.

24

bianca steele 01.19.14 at 8:48 pm

Donald Johnson @ 9
I’ve read about the first two chapters of “The Rise of American Democracy.” I’ve taken it down from the shelf twice to help pass the time while I was looking for a job, and twice I got an offer within a month of starting reading it. (Go figure.)

It’s long and densely argued, and heavily footnoted. It’s in the tradition of the New Labor History that was very important a couple of decades ago. I learned a lot from it about little-r republican/revolutionary groups among artisans in the Federalist period and earlier. If I was looking for a topic for a research paper on American history, any one paragraph in the book could probably be worked into a twenty-five page paper–at times Wilentz seems to suggest that he’s taking sides in an argument, though attempting to represent the other side fairly. I wouldn’t necessarily expect a historian with a good argument about a movement that ended around 1863 to have something authoritative to say about politics in 2014, though. And anyway Wilentz doesn’t write about politics as a neutral scholar, he has always backed a specific candidate. His book about presidents from Nixon to GW Bush is more general and fairly completist, and comes down hard behind WJ Clinton (and against Carter).

25

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 01.19.14 at 8:52 pm

LFC, given the topic and who is in charge of our surveillance state, how would you avoid it?
~

26

Straightwood 01.19.14 at 8:53 pm

@21

twisted interpretations of Obamas’ motives

No twisted interpretations are required. It is the consistent actions of Obama to defend Wall Street and the state security apparatus that are repeatedly and logically described by GG and other critics of Obama. Obama is out of excuses. His motivations are irrelevant; character is defined by action, and his actions make him a failure to those of us who hoped for a TR or FDR who would clean out the corrupt plutocracy and cut the Military-Industrial Complex down to size.

Obama will be remembered as the black American Tony Blair: charming, eloquent, and disastrously wrong on crucial policy decisions.

27

bob mcmanus 01.19.14 at 8:54 pm

12: Wilder beat me to it.

Upon finishing the post, I immediately went out and read The Coming Insurrection instead of following the links to Wilentz. Wilentz may have no more than an incoherent shudder, but it may be more honest than trying to re-animate the corpse.

“Revalorize the non-economic aspects of life” is the slogan shared by the negative growth movement and by capital’s reform program. Eco-villages, video-surveillance cameras, spirituality, biotechnologies and sociability all belong to the same “civilizational paradigm” now taking shape, that of a total economy rebuilt from the ground up. Its intellectual matrix is none other than cybernetics, the science of systems—that is, the science of their control.

In a single century, freedom, democracy and civilization have reverted to the state of hypotheses. Our leaders’ work from here on out will consist in shaping the material and moral as well as symbolic and social conditions in which these hypotheses can be more or less validated, in configuring spaces where they can seem to function.

so the West has sacrificed itself as a particular civilization in order to impose itself as a universal culture. The operation can be summarized like this: an entity in its death throes sacrifices itself as a content in order to survive as a form.

The fragmented individual survives as a form thanks to the “spiritual” technologies of counseling. Patriarchy survives by attributing to women all the worst attributes of men: willfulness, self-control, insensitivity. A disintegrated society survives by propagating an epidemic of sociability and entertainment. So it goes with all the great, outmoded fictions of the West maintaining themselves through artifices that contradict these fictions point by point.

We live under an occupation, a police occupation.

But not under a police state

28

tib 01.19.14 at 9:00 pm

In retrospect Obama’s anti-war reputation was a fairy-tale and his attack on the individual mandate looks hypocritical, as were his attacks on NAFTA given his efforts on TPP and fast track. After the Clinton campaign Obama went on to eviscerate the McCain and Romney campaigns (Romney so efficiently that the campaign was over by June). So perhaps Wilentz’s description of the Obama campaign as cutthroat and misleading is not so far off the mark, unless you believe it was luck rather than skill that caught otherwise successful politicians so flat-footed.

Wilentz showed how the Obama campaign used outrage to obscure his conservative policies from progressive voters. He points out here Snowden, Assange and Greenwald’s use of outrage to obscure an ideological attack on the democratic state, and the peculiar spectacle of otherwise liberal supporters applauding that critique. How is that weird?

29

bob mcmanus 01.19.14 at 9:02 pm

blockquotes above in 27 failed me. It is almost by The Invisible Committee

Straightwood 18.2 and 18.3 is pretty good.

We should perhaps be looking more for what Wilentz and the three kids (sorry) have in common. It may look like anarchism or libertarianism, a groping to the right or left, to old statists and organizers and collectivists.

Mourning?

30

Bruce Wilder 01.19.14 at 9:04 pm

What a liberal state needs is deliberative process controlling governance, to make governance rational and oriented to a public-interest.

To get the deliberation necessary for rationality to emerge and impose its will, the liberal state requires the institutionalization of opposed interests and idealized constraints on the exercise of power. That’s what constitutional separation of powers, requirements for due process, the ritual honoring of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, etc., is all about: creating procedural hurdles amid a diversity of state offices, to prevent the assembly of a stable and persistent, dominant coalition, and to force those, who exercise authority, to constantly rationalize its applications.

If you don’t have a clear idea of what the liberal state is, or was, I don’t think it is possible to have a clear idea of what the emergence of the surveillance state means in the context of administering the liberal state.

I think the emergence of an out-of-control surveillance state is an aftermath of the death of the liberal state. It’s a disease of the dead, like maggots eating a corpse.

Ubiquitous surveillance is largely a technical development, an irresistible possibility, built into the progress of the computer/communications revolution. Our computing machines are generating vast records willy nilly. A luddite resistance is doomed to futility, but I don’t know what shape a liberal response could take, if a liberal ideology could be revived to think through the problem. We have libertarians, whose ideology often follows a fairy tale template, in which the state is a monster source-of-all-evil, and weakening the state is a solution. This is, of course, directly opposed to the liberal idea of the state as a countervailing power representing a common, public interest, an idea, which has few effective advocates. And, we have the neoliberal idea of the public-private partnership, which dissolves opposed interests in favor of plutocratic domination and the exclusive pursuit of plutocratic private interests, under cover of the rhetoric of market liberalism.

If I had to guess, I would say the libertarians and the neoliberals will cooperate in further weakening the state and the concept of a public good or a public interest. And, the demoralized rump of liberals will, to use Plume’s phrase, act as a completely ineffective speedbump. Wilentz and The New Republic are looking for a broker’s role, I guess.

31

Hector_St_Clare 01.19.14 at 9:05 pm

Re: Robert Manne had a great piece on Assange’s politics and I think Henry does Assange a disservice by saying his politics are not coherent.

I think ‘Nihilist’ pretty much covers it.

32

LFC 01.19.14 at 9:07 pm

if the thunder…@25
LFC, given the topic and who is in charge of our surveillance state, how would you avoid it?
I don’t know. But I’m not spending time w another re-run of that argument. You cd follow Henry @15 and shift the focus of discussion to Europe, I suppose.

33

Plume 01.19.14 at 9:09 pm

Glenn Greenwald 5,

Fair enough. You make a good case for me to take another, closer look at your writings. And the remarks by others in this thread extend the picture as well. Admittedly, I haven’t read your work in a couple of years and did not know of your support for Occupy. That speaks (positive) volumes for me and I sincerely respect that.

Also need to review the work of Wikileaks, etc. . . . with an eye toward their pursuit of corporate issues. Honestly missed that aspect.

Bottom line for me: I’m with Chomsky and his longtime view as seen recently on C-Span discussion of his book On Anarchy.

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/OnAna

All institutions, public and private, need to be questioned and demonstrate their legitimacy. If they are acting against the public interest, they aren’t and they need to be dismantled.

34

Straightwood 01.19.14 at 9:09 pm

@28

an ideological attack on the democratic state

A democratic state does not spy secretly on its citizens according to secret laws. A democratic state does not torture and imprison innocent men. A democratic state does not wage illegal wars of aggression. The reasons why Obama has ripped up the Bill of Rights are irrelevant; it is the damage to our society that matters. It is a waste of time to debate Obama’s personal character and motivations. His actions speak for themselves.

GG, Assange, and Snowden are all defending democracy against an increasingly powerful and unaccountable concentration of government and corporate power.

35

Kevin Erickson 01.19.14 at 9:14 pm

Haven’t read the piece yet, but from your description, there appears to be a deep irony. It sounds like Wilentz is replicating precisely what I find so endlessly frustrating about Greenwald’s writing: the claims of being able to tell us what X person’s “true motivations” are.

36

LFC 01.19.14 at 9:20 pm

tib@28
The notion that Obama’s policy positions as a candidate in 2008 were “conservative” is flat-out, arrant nonsense. His positions on the whole were indistinguishable from H. Clinton’s and in some cases to her left.

mcmanus:
A disintegrated society survives by propagating an epidemic [sic] of sociability and entertainment
I gather you were quoting The Invisible Committee, but what does the “epidemic of sociability” consist of? what does it look like? People chatting on Facebook? What are you talking about?
Why throw up a long blockquote from The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection anyway? At least 50 percent of that book (or manifesto) is probably gibberish.

37

bob mcmanus 01.19.14 at 9:34 pm

The panopticon has become overt and coercive because the hegemony has failed.

The state is now behind the prison walls, invisible because all the cameras are pointed outward.

“We’re definitely moving toward ‘control’ societies that are no longer ex-
actly disciplinary. . . . We’re moving toward control societies that no longer
operate [primarily] by confining people but through continuous control
and instant communication. . . . In a control-based system, nothing’s left
alone for long” …Deleuze

36: At least 50 percent of that book (or manifesto) is probably gibberish.

Poetry maybe, polemic or elegy, but honestly the rational liberal argumentation of the last decade or so has not amazed me with its efficacy.

But I’m gone.

38

Bruce Wilder 01.19.14 at 9:39 pm

Any book so beloved by Glenn Beck cannot be all bad, eh?

39

John Emerson 01.19.14 at 9:43 pm

Isn’t Wilentz mostly a Clinton political operative (hack)? He attacked Obama during the primary campaign, but now Clinton is part of the Obama Administration, and not only that, she’s in the foreign / military policy part.

From the beginning I’ve picked this up from the other end. Assange, Snowden, Manning and Greenwald all seem to have political views different than mine, and possibly some objectionable views, and I find it unfortunate that the people I agree with on most issues are unwilling to address this issue. It’s the same with the drug war and the war on crime.

There are all kinds of things that liberals objected to when Bush did them, but which, when Obama does them, there’s no protest.

40

Contrarily 01.19.14 at 9:49 pm

@31

I think nihilist pretty much covers it.

Julian Assange in 1996:

Put away your straw man … Nobel economic laureates have been telling us for years to be careful about idealised market models … This years [sic] Nobel for Economics won by George A. Akerlof, A. Michael Spence and Joseph E. Stiglitz “for their analysis of markets with assymmetric [sic] information” is typical. You don’t need a Nobel to realize that the relationship between a large employer and employee is brutally assymmetric [sic] … To counter this sort of assymetery. [sic] Employees naturally start trying to collectivise to increase their information processing and bargaining power. That’s right. UNIONS Declan. Those devious entities that first world companies and governments have had a hand in suppressing all over the third world by curtailing freedom of association, speech and other basic political rights we take for granted.

That’s an unusual “nihilist” in my book.

41

Plume 01.19.14 at 9:52 pm

Contrarily 40,

That’s very well put by Assange. Direct, concise, to the point. And oh so correct.

42

tib 01.19.14 at 9:56 pm

@34 Democratic states have done all of those things and worse. Obama has not ripped up the Bill of Rights, at worst he has left the balance between liberty and security tilted too far toward security. He has not done enough to repair the damage done in the wake of 9-11.

While Obama puts more weight on security that I would it is not clear, in this democratic state, that his sense of the balance is much different from the public’s.

43

Richard 01.19.14 at 9:57 pm

>>(and it is interesting, as an aside, that Chelsea Manning’s fate and motivation don’t even get a mention)<<

bull's eye!

44

bob mcmanus 01.19.14 at 9:59 pm

Wilder at 30: A luddite resistance is doomed to futility, but I don’t know what shape a liberal response could take, if a liberal ideology could be revived to think through the problem.

I believe there is a possible “response,” but it won’t be a “liberal” response or fit into a liberal ideology. But there is a way forward, that is not nostalgia or a conservatism that tries to preserve Fordist liberal-imperial institutions.

Which is why I pointed to The Collective and tiqqun, who may be very wrong, but would be wrong in the right direction. There are many others, cyborg feminism and post-anarchism for instance. I have a certain faith in the young, and a certain humility about understanding a society moving by me at breakneck speed. I don’t want to slow it down, but just get out of the way.

And don’t trust anybody over 30.

45

SusanC 01.19.14 at 10:07 pm

The political divide on this issue seems to not be between left and right, but between authoritarians (of both left and right) vs a coalition of people who still believe in democracy (of both left and right) and anarchists (of both left and right). I wouldn’t describe Assange himself as an anarchist; he seems to have faith in government as long as it’s transparent enough to held accountable; but the anarchists are clearly siding with Assange rather than (e.g.) Obama.

Hence you see some rather surprising political alliances; or at least, alliances that are different from the ones we’ve become used to.

Calling Obama the African American Tony Blair is a bit harsh; he’s not quite sunk to Tony Blair levels of poor decision making. The African American Richard Nixon might be kinder.

46

Ronan(rf) 01.19.14 at 10:11 pm

Isn’t trying to decipher Greenwald, Assange or Snowdens politics beside the point? Why does it matter if any of them support policy x or candidate y ? What matters is the information they are releasing and the arguments they’re pushing, and those things can be analysed without scrutinizing Snowdens opinions on Rand Paul or trying to find coherency in Assange’s politics.
All that matters now is the personality, not what they’re actually saying, how truthful it is etc And this goes for virtually *all* the analysis by ‘specialist commentators with a public platform’ that Ive seen. The overwhelming majority of it (to this layman) is useless. Why is that?

47

Straightwood 01.19.14 at 10:45 pm

@42

it is not clear, in this democratic state, that his sense of the balance is much different from the public’s.

Oh really? I doubt that concealing from the public the extent of the phone metadata collection was to avoid the public praise and acclaim that would result. Public opinion, as reflected in post-Snowden affair polls, shows the public opposed to the NSA’s comprehensive phone data gathering. Obama’s toleration of the NSA’s steady encroachment on individual privacy is contrary to the public’s wishes.

Do you seriously believe that the Federal government should have at its disposal a complete record of everyone’s telephone calls and knowledge of all travel movements of cell phone subscribers? Do you believe that the American public supports such an undertaking?

48

Bruce Wilder 01.19.14 at 10:47 pm

Digby pointed to this the other day:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/bennyjohnson/americas-spies-want-edward-snowden-dead

The ideology of the apparatchiks, even if it is not widely shared, may be controlling, in the absence of political movements seeking to govern, and unexposed to daylight or criticism. It is hard to see what that ideology is, exactly, beyond an unthinking conviction that their own intentions are pure and their efforts, effective in some diffuse moral sense, which automatically excuses any event or datum. The expression of murderous anger collected for the linked article may not represent anything about the whole, of course; it’s a journalist collecting quotes, not a Gallup survey. But, I wonder.

For me, the larger context is the whole response to 9/11, which seemed to me to be, in every major respect, to be unthinking and ill-considered, from collecting shampoo bottles and nail clippers from passengers in airports, as security theatre, to the invasion of Iraq, followed by the totally corrupt and incompetent “Reconstruction”, to Obama’s repeat of the Surge in Afghanistan (like we hadn’t been there long enough already).

There just doesn’t seem to be any capacity in the post-mortem ex-Liberal State, to rationally choose a goal or apply means to an end. Nor much capacity in the popular imagination (or at least in the Media, which script writes the visible popular imagination) to recognize the sheer craziness of the “efforts to make us safe”, whether it is stupendously expensive perpetual war in Afghanistan or TSA security theatre. The behind-doors surveillance state was just as crazy, apparently: billions upon billions spent on vast efforts, unconnected to any rational targeting, objective or result. The well-intended effort, if strenuous enough, was self-justifying to those involved. The simple insight that collecting a million acre, mile-high haystack wouldn’t aid in finding a half-dozen needles seems to have escaped those in charge.

I imagine there’s an element of corruption involved, of course; the only “experts” are feeding at the trough of a vast expenditure and will cheer the vastness of the effort, but I wonder if there’s also a complicity born of complacency and the absence of any organized force in American politics that actually cares enough to sustain critical attention beyond a thirty-second emotional response. I’ve tried to talk to people about how silly TSA airport security is, and I get a lot of resistance to the idea that it is all a big, annoying waste. Guantanamo is another indicative case: the idea that the vast majority of inmates, past and present, were pretty much innocent victims never seems to register, even with many of the critics; and the apparatchiks in that case are apparently complete nutcases, interpreting the hunger strikes and suicides as asymmetric terrorism!

The NSA isn’t the KGB. It appears, instead like a reflection of totalitarianism in a funhouse mirror: authoritarian expediency with no clear object in view, imagining a titanic clash of civilizations, when its nominal opponent in Al Qaeda is a little more than a pathetic marketing effort by a failed franchise. Blowing up things in the wastes of Yemen or the Pakistani backcountry, while tracking down hapless donors to Islamic charities in the U.S., all without any real thought about purposes or consequences.

I don’t spend much time wondering about Obama’s motivations, but the evidence of disengagement with serious critics of policy seems to present a general pattern, with particularly pernicious consequences.

49

LFC 01.19.14 at 10:48 pm

John Emerson @39
H. Clinton is no longer Sec. of State.

50

Plume 01.19.14 at 11:04 pm

SusanC 45,

On most issues (with exceptions), I’d say Nixon was to Obama’s left. Then again, since American political power has shifted so far to the right over the years, that can be said about most of the presidents in the last three decades or so, with exceptions.

Ike was to Obama’s left, too. Except on some social issues.

But I do wonder: What if he had taken office without a 9-11, an Iraq War, a war in Afghanistan, a Gitmo, etc.? What if he had followed, oh, say, Howard Dean instead of Bush?

Personally, I see Obama as someone who loves to cut deals, facilitate agreements, work toward compromise. I don’t think he’s especially ideological. So if the sides lining up for the deal aren’t the current construct of center-right and hard-right, Obama’s compromises would be vastly different. If he’s dealing with center-left and center-right, for example . . . I think we have another presidency altogether.

Too bad we can never have a “far left” in the mix. Especially a Green Left. But that’s considered verboten, unlike the hard-right.

51

William Timberman 01.19.14 at 11:05 pm

bob mcmanus @ 37

Poetry maybe, polemic or elegy, but honestly the rational liberal argumentation of the last decade or so has not amazed me with its efficacy.

Yes, poetry. Much maligned these days, especially by its most inadvertent — and most malevolent — practitioners. (What are Total Information Awareness, Full-Spectrum Dominance and the like, if not bad poetry. Even Rumsfeld’s Unknown Unknowns) reminds me a bit of Kahlil Gibran.)

Le dérèglement de tous les sens was recognized even in Rimbaud’s own time as a methodology with applications beyond the enrichment of poetic form. If you really want to see beyond the wall of mirrors erected by the guardians of our rapidly decaying status quo, radical means will sometimes be required.

Frankly, I can’t think of any genuine revitalization/replacement of BW’s dysfunctional institutions that doesn’t involve a bit of dérèglement along the way. Otherwise, we might as well be choosing between Coke and Pepsi — or Democrats and Republicans — and we already know what precious little good that has done us.

52

LFC 01.19.14 at 11:08 pm

@B Wilder
The behind-doors surveillance state was just as crazy, apparently: billions upon billions spent on vast efforts, unconnected to any rational targeting, objective or result. The well-intended effort, if strenuous enough, was self-justifying to those involved. The simple insight that collecting a million acre, mile-high haystack wouldn’t aid in finding a half-dozen needles seems to have escaped those in charge.
I think NSA metadata collection goes too far, but no one on the outside can know for certain whether any needles were found, plots stopped, etc., or exactly how. Not to justify (all) the programs, just saying.

when its nominal opponent in Al Qaeda is a little more than a pathetic marketing effort by a failed franchise
that description may apply to ‘al-Qaeda central’ but not really to the various offshoots

Blowing up things in the wastes of Yemen or the Pakistani backcountry
things and, of course, people, including civilians; a story just the other week about a wedding party in Yemen hit by drones by mistake.

I share some of the criticisms of Obama on these issues, but note that on Guantanamo he has appointed two new officials w a mandate to get the stalled closure train moving again.

53

Straightwood 01.19.14 at 11:14 pm

@48

totalitarianism in a funhouse mirror

Very astute, Bruce. The pebble with which Bin Laden struck the American giant’s forehead seems to have rendered us permanently insane – willing to believe in an endless “threat” that justifies unlimited military spending and a Stasi-like security apparatus. The fractured logic behind this belongs in a Kafka novel, not in our daily news. A few weeks ago, one of the Congressional “intelligence” committee idiots stated that the terrorist threat has never been greater. So, the more we spend, and the more liberties we surrender, the greater the threat, requiring us to spend more and give up more freedom. Mission accomplished!

54

Barry 01.19.14 at 11:24 pm

Two things:

Henry, ‘ any half-way competent editor would have decided that no amount of contrarianism was worth the damage to the magazine’s brand. ‘ Those who deal in contrarianism have no problem with ‘more is better’. And, of course, facts never bother contrarians.

Second, perhaps you should add the materials from the commenters about the fact that Sean flat-out lied: ‘Notice that Assange and Snowden had virtually zero big bombshells regarding corporate malfeasance. It was all about government’.

55

Plume 01.19.14 at 11:32 pm

Barry 54,

That wasn’t Wilentz. It was my own assertion. I’ve since reconsidered, due to additional evidence and now, humbly, retract that statement. I was wrrrr . . . wrrrr . . . . wrong.

Though I still see an imbalance there. Much more focus and emphasis on government malfeasance than private. I want to see full exposure of criminality and abuse in both public and private spheres. Both are guilty, etc. etc.

56

roy belmont 01.20.14 at 12:00 am

37, 51 – Good poetry:

A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse;
And even the like precurse of fierce events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen.
But, soft! behold! lo! where it comes again.
_ _ _

O royal knavery! an exact command,
Larded with many several sorts of reasons
Importing Denmark’s health, and England’s too,
With, ho! such bugs and goblins in my life,
That, on the supervise, no leisure bated,
No, not to stay the grinding of the axe…
_ _ _

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass but my madness speaks;
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whiles rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what’s past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg…

End good poetry.
-
It is a mighty struggle to understand how it can be so hard, for so many otherwise educated astute and discerning minds, to work to the idea that both Blair and Obama and God knows GWBush as well as a rank multitude of lessly-important others, were and are quite clearly played, not players. Tokens with speech capability.
Not so much as performers but as announcers, as Masters of Ceremony – well-dressed, articulate, and there to facilitate the show. Not to direct it, certainly not as authorial presences, but there to announce the acts and provide continuity between them.
So that the analysis would better and more aptly be of the motives and intentions of what powers and interests have placed these pleasant-looking ciphers in the center rings of our political circuses.
The difference between the surveillance state of right-wing wet dream and the surveillance state of left-wing fantasy is maybe the difference between an authority that wants to beat you into blind obedience and will watch your every move for deviant acts, or thoughts, to be punished; and an authority that wants you, collectively, to realize the beauty and rightness of co-operative obedience, and will watch your every move for opportunities to help you, collectively, to that realization.
In the one there is no privacy because none is deserved outside the secure perimeters of authority, only within them; in the other privacy is shared, between the insignificant individual and king/queen cloud the righteous.
The Stasi guy with genuine affection for the lives virtualized into his passive reception and lived participation of them.
The Stasi guy with a fixated Doberman hunger for the scent of wrong.
Really different guys, really different immediate effects on the surveilled upon, but, end of the day, both Stasi.

Get your robot hand off my leg.

57

Matt 01.20.14 at 12:01 am

Similarly, Snowden revealed not just domestic surveillance but also foreign espionage – of a type very similar to that performed by other intelligence agencies. I think that it’s fair to look at this asymmetry and conclude that there is something more than an anti-spying agenda is operating; I can see a strong anti-American impulse operating as well.

Reporting on American foreign espionage is perfectly consistent with an anti-spying agenda, just like reporting on American foreign wars is perfectly consistent with an anti-war agenda. America spends the most in the world on spying and military power, so to criticize excesses of military power or spying is necessarily to criticize how America currently operates. I would say that it is only “anti-American” if you consider being the world leader in spying and warring fundamental to American identity.

58

Plume 01.20.14 at 12:42 am

Good article from Jacobin. Related. Not a commentary on the above. But connected all the same:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2013/12/cyberlibertarians-digital-deletion-of-the-left/

Philip Mirowski offers a useful analysis of these political formations in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste. Tracing the history of the founding figures of contemporary libertarianism, especially Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Karl Popper and others, Mirowski notes that their writings were less about establishing a clear conceptual position than consolidating and managing political power. Over time, their thought came to function as a set of “shells” or “Russian Dolls” in which participants in outer shells need not, and often must not, understand their connection to members of shells closer to the center.

Neoliberals in the innermost shell (like the Koch brothers) use libertarians at farther removes (like the Tea Party) not always to realize their agenda directly, but to push political discourse to the hard right. The Tea Party attack on government has less to do with ending government per se than providing a political power base to support the drafting of regulatory programs (like “fiscal reform” programs organized at the state level by ALEC) and gutting regulatory enforcement mechanisms (like environmental oversight of energy industries) — even though most Tea Party members may not embrace much of this agenda.

and . . .

Cyberlibertarians across the political spectrum focus a great deal on the promotion of tools, objects, software, and policies whose chief benefit is their ability to escape regulation and even law enforcement by the state (including surveillance-avoidant technologies and applications such as Tor, end-to-end encryption, PGP and Cryptocat). They routinely portray government as the enemy of democracy rather than as its potential realization. Generally, they refuse to construe corporate power on the same order as governmental power; in close alignment with libertarianism, they implicitly suggest companies like Google and Facebook should be entirely unconstrained by governmental oversight.

59

Plume 01.20.14 at 12:48 am

A quandary, conundrum, paradox, etc. etc.

Government can be the enemy of democracy or its potential vehicle. We also know that the private sector, using a capitalist engine, can be the enemy of democracy, but can’t possibly be the vehicle for democracy. Capitalism itself being anti-democratic in form and function. Capitalism seeking privatization, not democracy.

So where should our efforts go, if we seek true democracy? Undermining government, which generally leads to more power for private business interests, thus weakening democracy still further? Or, remaking government as a truly democratic institution, while replacing an economic system that is in direct conflict with democracy?

The latter, obviously. Getting rid of the surveillance state is a damn good start.

60

darrelplant 01.20.14 at 12:54 am

I’d venture to say, on the part of Snowden and any “non-liberal” tendencies he might have (aka liking his gun), that most anyone hired into a classified position where they had access to the material he did, probably wasn’t going around in tie-dye shirts with a peace symbol on them. The types of people with access to classified or sensitive information don’t tend to be peaceniks or “liberals,” they’re people who’ve gone into the military or security professions for a reason.

Daniel Ellsberg was a military analyst for a defense think tank. He was a Marine. He’d served closely with McNamara as SecDef and in Vietnam in the State Department. Not a hippie. That’s why he had access to the material that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

61

djw 01.20.14 at 12:55 am

That’s an awful lot of words from Wilentz without anything approaching a coherent point. Greenwald, Snowden, and Assange made public things which never should have been secret. Our democracy is at least marginally better off for that, and for that I thank them. I don’t particularly care about their political philosophies, and Wilentz doesn’t even try to make a case about why I should.

62

zachary braiterman 01.20.14 at 12:56 am

Prima facie, I was prepared to defend it, but the Wilentz is awful, relying too much on biography to make what may or may not be a relevant point about ES, GG, JA, and the politics of paranoia. I was ready to follow along what seemed to be the main line of an argument in the second paragraph and then quickly lost interest as that argument unraveled.

63

Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 12:59 am

LFC: no one on the outside can know for certain whether any needles were found, plots stopped, etc.

Let’s not exaggerate. We can see what they show us: specific public claims have been made, identifying plots, and those claims are beyond pathetic, even on their face. We have Guantanamo, where we have lists of specific people, identified as terrorists — “the worst of the worst” — most of whom turn out to be some shade of innocent. It is perfectly reasonable to suppose the percentage of drone-killings, who represent an actual hostility, let alone threat to the U.S., is no better than the tiny percentage of true positives among those rounded up for Guantanamo. We can see plots, which were not stopped. Bang up job, there, in Boston (fumbling specific warnings from the Russians) don’t you think?

If we’re willing to look, which some are definitely not willing.

Think of Bush apologists, who emphatically claimed there was never another attack on U.S. soil, and never the loss of a city, on Bush’s watch after 9/11, so . . . success! Never mind anthrax, never mind the economic devastation of Detroit. Or, Katrina, the palsied response and corrupt “reconstruction”. Never mind the devastation of America’s reputation in the world from torture and Iraq, never mind the multi-trillion costs of Iraq and Afganistan or the loss of lives and limbs there. Never mind the banksters’ coup d’état in 2008 (oh, you think that’s irrelevant to the surveillance state? do you, really? Irrelevant to millions spent to track down some hapless fools donating thousands or tens of thousands to Islamic charities, while international banks skate on criminal money-laundering on a fantastic, multi-billion-dollar scale? That kind of irrelevant?) Never mind the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

64

SoU 01.20.14 at 1:37 am

b. mcmanus upthread -
“Poetry maybe, polemic or elegy, but honestly the rational liberal argumentation of the last decade or so has not amazed me with its efficacy”

yeah, i just wanted to echo this, and drop this link to an (excellent) essay on the subject, hopefully without cluttering the thread
http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/just-the-facts/

65

Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 1:40 am

Bruce, LFC

This came out a few weeks ago and might be of interest

http://natsec.newamerica.net/nsa/analysis

66

John Quiggin 01.20.14 at 1:53 am

@Marc 21 “It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Greenwald has an extremely deep personal animus towards Obama that is apparent in everything that he writes and says. “

Easy to avoid this conclusion if you read Greenwald in the period leading up to, and immediately following Obama’s election. He made it clear at all points that he was judging actions rather than personalities, praised those actions of Obama consistent his campaign promises and criticised those that were not. The animus that is evident now is the result of the actions Greenwald criticised, not the cause of the criticism.

This kind of criticism is like the claim that people who opposed Bush’s policies or doubted his competence were guilty of Bush Derangement Syndrome or something similar (an affliction now widespread in the Repub party).

67

JW Mason 01.20.14 at 1:54 am

Wilentz wasn’t always like this, was he? Wasn’t Chants Democratic a genuinely good book?

68

Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 1:54 am

bob mcmanus @ 37, 44

I’d like to think the kids are alright, and, honestly, from my limited personal acquaintance, those under 30 are quite different from the Reaganaut late-boomer, early-X generation, which includes Obama. The kids may well have a phenomenal ability to come together — they are so oriented to teams. And, they are getting an intense education in not-respecting authority.

69

Plume 01.20.14 at 2:23 am

John Quiggin 65,

This is all true. But there is another aspect tied to GG. When he was with Salon, he set an atmosphere — or let it be set — for the commenters that basically made it the norm to rip apart anyone who didn’t hate Obama with sufficient zeal. If someone even tried to say, well, yes, he’s done forty billion rotten things, but, on this one issue, he doesn’t completely suck . . . . Attack!!!!

And it wasn’t enough to just attack those people and call them Obamabots, because their criticism of Obama wasn’t sufficiently overheated beyond ever cooling down. It became the norm to question their motives for even bringing up the one out of forty billion times when Obama didn’t completely destroy western civilization all by himself.

And, yes, I’m engaging in hyperbole, but to make a point. Basically, the clique around GG, which he didn’t try to dissuade, wasn’t satisfied with absolute hatred of Obama. They tried their best to shout down even claims that his rottenness had a few redeeming characteristics. And the vast majority of people doing this just loved them some capitalism. To them, capitalism and the private sector could do no wrong. The only evil in the world was gubmint. And if it just left capitalists alone, then . . . well, heaven would rain gold and Ron Paul would save the world.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

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LFC 01.20.14 at 2:32 am

B. Wilder @63:
well, I’m not going to defend G.W.Bush, whose administration was, in the main, a disaster. On the other point, yes, we can see what they show us; all I was saying is that we can’t see what they don’t show us and we don’t really know what that is. But I think we are prob. more in agreement than disagreement overall here.

Ronan @65: link noted, thks. haven’t read it yet.

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William Timberman 01.20.14 at 2:40 am

roy belmont @ 56, SoU @ 64

I’ve said this before, but it seems worth saying again, especially in the context of clueless administrators, good poetry and the doubts expressed in Spafford’s essay: Though this be method, yet there’s madness in it.

72

Bikenap 01.20.14 at 2:45 am

Marc @ 21

“it is possible to construct an argument where Greenwald et al. are acting as enablers for domestic right-wingers”

Please, let’s see the argument. After all, Wilentz thinks it’s possible to construct an argument with “the leakers despise the modern liberal state, and they want to wound it” as its conclusion, but apparently he couldn’t deliver.

Plume @ 59

“We also know that the private sector, using a capitalist engine, can be the enemy of democracy, but can’t possibly be the vehicle for democracy. Capitalism itself being anti-democratic in form and function. Capitalism seeking privatization, not democracy.”

You suggest that capitalism is in principle incompatible with democracy. What reason is there to think this? (I don’t mean to derail the thread; a link or two to what you take to be good sources would suffice)

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Simon 01.20.14 at 2:54 am

Greenwald has made some very unfortunate statements about immigrants.

Would calling Mexican immigrants “unimaginably endless hordes” be simply “unfortunate?” Why give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s an incredibly racist and derogatory statement. This has nothing to do with the thesis of your piece, which otherwise is sound.

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LFC 01.20.14 at 3:30 am

darrelplant @60
I understand the point you’re making but re Snowden and Ellsberg –
hard to imagine two more different backgrounds, at least in certain respects. Snowden is smart, I have no doubt, but has relatively little formal education and was not political, I suspect, for most of his life, and prob. didn’t start thinking seriously about politics till fairly late in the day, biographically speaking. I think Snowden fell into his NSA job somewhat by chance (to the extent that is possible, which I believe it is). OTOH Ellsberg was prob. thinking about politics from early on, had a certain perspective, then changed it. Different trajectories; and also the two acts of leaking may not be exactly analogous, but I haven’t really thought that through.

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Straightwood 01.20.14 at 3:56 am

@73

Ellsberg was one of the best and the brightest at a time when some of these people still had enough integrity to blow the whistle. Today, the elites have been bought off. We now depend on low-status outsiders like Snowden and Manning to defend the Republic. How long will it be before American society is rotten through and through?

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Marc 01.20.14 at 4:00 am

@66: I could not disagree more strongly. He consistently reads the intentions of the man in the worst possible light; he minimizes anything positive; and his utter hatred of the man leads him to poor analysis. The most vivid example to me is when there was a Republican attempt to drum up war with Iran. Obama – to the rest of the planet – acted pretty decisively to tamp down the war drums. Greenwald had an opposite-day post where he had Obama gearing up to attack Iran. It doesn’t help that he leaves things out that aren’t consistent with the story that he’s pushing either. Advocacy has its place, but it’s not wise to get all of your news from advocates.

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SoU 01.20.14 at 4:13 am

Bruce @68 – re: the kids are alright

while the second part of your comment is definitely true – that members of my generation have learned powerful lessons during this last decade of great american incompetence, i am not so sanguine about the ‘coming together’ aspect of it. in my personal experience, to some extent the reaction to these spectacular failures/corruption in government and business has been a retreat into cynicism. specifically a type of narcissistic cynicism of the ‘well its all mired in shit so i might as well get mine’ sort. because as much as we recognize the perversity of the current world, we were also raised in its particular discourse about the social and thus inherit the limitations of that frame.

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Straightwood 01.20.14 at 4:24 am

@76

You imply that GG is untrustworthy because his work is distorted by hatred of Obama. So please show us where Greenwald’s reporting in the Snowden affair has been inaccurate. The lies and distortions have all come from the NSA and its defenders in Congress. It is the facts that should determine our evaluation of trustworthiness, not attitudes and postures. In this regard, GG has been highly reliable. Obama, not so much.

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Tom Paine 01.20.14 at 4:46 am

I for one am I disturbed by the ongoing trend — going back to the rants in 2011 of a Russian journalist working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague getting paid with our taxpayer money — to ‘link’ the tea party to Putin (among @IrinaSeverin’s other bizarre claims was that). There have been similar bitter rants by liberal Russian journalists hurled at American guests who go on RT, that they’re all just like Brother Alex Jones (who incidentally, hasn’t appeared on RT since the channel took a pro-gun control position after Sandy Hook, but nevermind with such details) and believe in a ‘New World Order’ pulling the strings behind the US and allied governments.

At any rate as one wag in D.C. put it, RT covers the U.S. and UK the way the U.S. media covers Russia and Ukraine — with a hard emphasis on dissidents of all stripes, popular discontent, and economic problems. In response to getting trolled hard for the first time since the end of the Cold War by slick and well funded foreign media (including at times Al-Jazeera and France 24), we’ve seen the bipartisan U.S. Establishment talking heads and money-losing rags like The New Republic lose their shit. They can’t handle being covered in the same way they’ve been used to covering the whole non-Davos Club world. Hence the trend of attempting to ‘link’ all paleoconservative, paleolibertarian, Dark Enlightenment and even mainline (Cato Institute, Judge Andrew Napolitano) type libertarian thought with Russia. It’s like folks think any sort of spontaneous free association or alliances between human beings who may agree to disagree on some issues while cooperating on others is impossible — WITHOUT a naturally conspiratorial government or spy agency backing them.

What’s next, the Manosphere with its putting Slavic and especially Russian/Ukrainian women at the apex of global femininity is somehow another SVR plot? [ If it is, they'e apparently duped #TeamNSA Twitter Team leader himself, Prof. John R. Schindler, who likes to tweet about Snowden's 'beta'-ness]. The popularity of Tula works ammo that’s sold at Wal-Mart is ‘proof’ that Putin is arming America’s bitter clingers for violent insurrection against Washington?

There’s all sorts of fanatically pro-Establishment horseshit that’s coming down the pipe as bipartisan corrupt D.C. and its sock puppets get more desperate. Watch for it.

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Tom Paine 01.20.14 at 4:48 am

[sic] among @IrinaSeverin’s most bizarre claims was that Stalin invented the tea party, by way of introducing the atheistic White Russian Ayn Rand into the American body politic. Um, ok. She also accused Sen. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz of being ‘Putin favorites’ for their anti-Syria intervention position.

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roger gathman 01.20.14 at 4:56 am

Simple point: it isn’t that the surveillance agencies overprotect the US – they actively harm the US. 9/11 simply would not have happened if the CIA hadn’t spent a decade building up a jihadist network against the soviet union and used Osama bin Laden in that process. If the argument is that snowden, et al., in harming our intelligence agencies, are somehow harming the US, which is a liberal democracy, than this is a false argument. By harming the american intelligence capacities to make more enemies and set up more false friends, snowden is doing more to protect the US than the NSA and the CIA have ever done. All the later do is latch onto the catastrophic results of their past failures to create ever more powerful agencies that not only dissolve american freedoms, but prepare future catastrophes. In sum, they have harmed the US in innumerable ways over the past fifty years.
Of course, the broader and to my mind more convincing argument is that they have institutionalized crimes against humanity, and that on that account they should be brought down even if they had benefited the US. But in fact the latter isn’t the case.

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Tom Paine 01.20.14 at 4:59 am

@ Plume 58

“Cyberlibertarians across the political spectrum focus a great deal on the promotion of tools, objects, software, and policies whose chief benefit is their ability to escape regulation and even law enforcement by the state (including surveillance-avoidant technologies and applications such as Tor, end-to-end encryption, PGP and Cryptocat).” This Jacobin rag sounds like yet another Soros funded effort to dress up authoritarian corporatist globalism in Marx.

“They routinely portray government as the enemy of democracy rather than as its potential realization.”

“Don’t listen to friends or neighbors who tell you about tyranny…because the government is us.” — Barack Obama at Ohio State University

“Generally, they refuse to construe corporate power on the same order as governmental power;” that’s because they recognize that Corporatism and the Corporate State have been around nearly a hundred years since Mussolini thought it up, and that it isn’t State VERSUS Corporate Power but Statist AND Corporat-ist power. A corporation that can’t fine you or throw you in jail for buying their shitty health insurance, to name just one example, is a corporation that isn’t all that powerful unless they’re trying to put you in lifelong debt servitude AFTER you’ve had a life saving procedure and/or major medical emergency. And then they’re only powerful because they won’t let you declare bankruptcy too easily. The same goes for the Too Big to Fail Banks. We’ve had the Federal Reserve which isn’t exactly federal but may be slightly more federal than Federal Express for what, a hundred years? Even if the hated ‘Paulbots’ are wrong that the Fed isn’t secretly owned by the Rothschilds or the Rockefellers, it might as well be owned by the TBTFs because it behaves exactly as if it were!

“In close alignment with libertarianism, they implicitly suggest companies like Google and Facebook should be entirely unconstrained by governmental oversight.” This is a talking point NSA defenders have been advancing for months, ever since the Snowden thing broke. It might as well be called NSA Good Cop – Google Bad Cop. The reality is Google was a product of the CIA venture capital arm In Q Tel, anybody can look that up, and its search engine technology was conceived as a means for human analysts to solve the problem of being buried in infinitismale haystacks as (William Binney says) the NSA ramped up in the late 1990s and particularly after 9/11 with its ‘collect everything’ approach. Without the search engine tech the NSA’s vast pile would be useless both for legitimate and illegitimate spying. So let’s cut the crap about Google or Facebook being entirely innocent bystanders even if their lower to mid level people are pissed with the NSA. At the upper echelons Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State was right, the NSA has been in bed with the telecom industry from the 50s on!

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Tom Paine 01.20.14 at 5:10 am

@ 27 “We live under an occupation, a police occupation.

But not under a police state” Another example of the libertarian-’real’ left convergence — outside of Bloomberg and Establishment-funded circles enthusiasm for gun control and particularly extreme forms of it like confiscation or a ban on inheriting firearms has waned on the Left in recent years as police have become more brutal and militarized. That’s not the same as favoring no registration at all, but me thinks a hardcore gun rights advocate and a veteran of the police beat downs of Occupy kids would have something to talk about now as opposed to during the militia movement’s heyday in the 1990s. The memories of the armed ‘Spartacist’ left or the German Communists and even social Democrats who had to pack for self-preservation from right wing Freikorps and later Nazis during the Weimar Republic have not entirely faded.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 5:22 am

Bikenap 72,

Have been discussing that in this thread. Apologies and warnings in advance. Some of my posts are relatively long.

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/01/13/the-repubs-wont-douthat/#comments

To me, it’s self-evidently the case.

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Alex 01.20.14 at 10:15 am

I do think one of the reasons why ioerror, Greenwald, and Co. tend to fall out so often and so badly with people who fundamentally agree with them is that they don’t get that everyone isn’t a libertarian. It’s quite possible to believe that they have a point, while not actually thinking that the police are obliged not to ask Vodafone for a trace on the suspected kidnapper’s car because FREEDOM.

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Alex 01.20.14 at 10:15 am

9/11 simply would not have happened if the CIA hadn’t spent a decade building up a jihadist network against the soviet union and used Osama bin Laden in that process.

This had remarkably little to do with telecoms data retention.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 11:12 am

I understand why libertarians don’t like mass state surveillance, but it’s not so obvious to me why liberals are against it, especially the NSA-metadata kind. It doesn’t seem to be in contradiction with the idea of a robust and well-managed welfare state. In fact, from the liberal POV, the more data is provided to the experts managing society, the better. The sooner you identify problems (including illegitimate attempts to disrupt the society), the faster you’ll be able to create a task force to analyze it, and then implement the necessary policies. What is, exactly, the liberal critique of it?

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Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 11:13 am

Remarkably little, except it is the same damn incompetents doing it.

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Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 11:20 am

You can’t support expanding certain functions of the state while not others? So all liberals have to support mass jailing and endless war?
alright

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Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 11:26 am

What is, exactly, the liberal critique of it?

On a certain technocratic level, yes, liberals love more and bigger data. The Obama Administration’s enthusiasm for digitizing medical records could be a prime example of technocratic liberal endorsement of Big Data. Just on the surface, people’s medical data seems a hell of a lot more personal than phone metadata (though if you throw in tracking the location of people carrying cellphones . . . )

But, medical recordkeeping isn’t funded in a black budget and the people, who catalog it don’t claim that they know secrets, which entitle them to murder people, imprison people or take money that doesn’t belong to them, or just generally run the foreign policy of the country.

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Peter T 01.20.14 at 11:54 am

As someone who worked in intelligence for many years, I can say that the practices revealed by Snowden look very much like a mixture of incompetence and hubris. Its every intelligence professional’s conviction that their problems would be solved if they had more data (it’s the intelligence version of Salisbury’s dictum that …”if you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.”) It’s the intelligence manager’s job to continually test this conviction. Else you end, as BW noted, with a mile high haystack on top of a few needles.

And some of the actions against foreign governments would seem to contravene the agreements which facilitate collection.

More broadly, this and much else seems symptomatic of an elite which has lost touch with the mechanics of their world – a rentier class which no longer knows how things actually work.

92

Layman 01.20.14 at 12:31 pm

“I do think one of the reasons why ioerror, Greenwald, and Co. tend to fall out so often and so badly with people who fundamentally agree with them is that they don’t get that everyone isn’t a libertarian.”

Greenwald doesn’t seem to be a libertarian, so I imagine he gets that some other people are also not libertarians. It seems to me that Greenwald is a civil libertarian, which is not the same thing at all.

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LFC 01.20.14 at 1:15 pm

@MaoChengJi83
What Ronan said @85 and BW @86.
Also, aren’t you aware that liberalism (in its contemp. meaning in US politics) is about more than a “robust and managed welfare state”? Liberals support the ideas of individual rights and privacy rights. This is obvious to the point that yr comment constitutes a grosser from of faux-naive quasi-trolling than usual. Are you familiar w the Bill of Rts to the US Const and do you think it’s something only libertarians value? Get a grip.

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LFC 01.20.14 at 1:34 pm

r.gathman @79
9/11 simply would not have happened if the CIA hadn’t spent a decade building up a jihadist network against the soviet union and used Osama bin Laden in that process.
I’m somewhat skeptical of this statement. Yes, the CIA aided the mujahideen and their allies fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but the impression I took away from Wright’s The Looming Tower is that OBL was not simply a creation of the CIA. The roots of al-Qaeda go back way before its formal est. in the late ’80s. I do think that U.S. foreign policy, more broadly, had a good deal to do with the emergence of jihadism in the al-Qaeda version but I don’t think the specific counterfactual “no CIA support for jihadist network -> no 9/11″ is all that convincing. It might be the case but as counterfactuals go it’s not an open-and-shut one.

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Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 1:38 pm

Yeah the Arab faction in Afghanistan got very little (perhaps virtually no) CIA support, IIRC

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David Golumbia 01.20.14 at 1:40 pm

I am the author of the piece about cyberlibertarianism and the Left at Jacobin that @Plume mentions above, and while Wilentz’s piece may be over the top in some ways, I think that Henry dismisses it far too fast, in part by skipping over pretty large amounts of the evidence that Wilentz offers.

Consider just this:

1. Assange is an open libertarian and supports the Pauls in particular. If that does not give Left supporters of WikiLeaks at least some reason for pause, I don’t know what would. This is only the past summer: “‘[I] am a big admirer of Ron Paul and Rand Paul for their very principled positions in the U.S. Congress on a number of issues,’ Assange said.” “The current libertarian strain of political thought in the Republican Party was the ‘the only hope’ for American electoral politics, Assange concluded.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/julian-assange-rand-paul_n_3768841.html

2. Greenwald became absolutely livid when some of us on the Left balked at partnering with the Pauls over his NSA revelations. Viewed from the perspective of coalitional politics, maybe that’s reasonable. But these same libertarians not four weeks prior to that had held the entire US hostage over the debt ceiling, threatening to do something that many very sane commentators, even conservatives, thought could irreparably damage the US in many different ways, and even threaten the political integrity of the nation. Further, those libertarians have a history of using Left coalitions only to their own advantage, and have held US politics hostage in general for all of Obama’s time in office. We can disagree over tactics, but it is appropriate to be screaming and shouting and turning red in the face at people on the Left who don’t want to join up with groups that have openly, recently, and overtly been working to tear the US apart into tiny pieces?

3. Both Pauls love Greenwald, have him on their websites and shows frequently, do not question him about his political orientation or that his work fits neatly into theirs (so do people like Amy Goodman, but my point is that both can’t be correct, can they?); Greenwald is livid about people questioning his relationship with Pierre Omidyar who has odd connections to Booz Allen and other aspects of the intelligence state; yet Greenwald’s statements that can be clearly construed as Left are few and far between, and have become fewer and fewer. On Twitter, he actually criticized Wilentz because former Facebook exec Chris Hughes owns the New Republic, while constantly jumping down the throats of–but never, to my mind, satisfactorily answering–anyone who tries to get him to explain why it’s good for him to be working on Omidyar’s dime.

4. Despite all the rhetoric, who did Snowden work for? Not the NSA; Booz Allen. Booz Allen does a lot of what it does regardless of government orders; it conducts its operations the world over, not just in the US; it is not just a corporate “bad actor” in the cribbed way Greenwald attacks Google etc. (much more to say about this), but a direct bad player, like hundreds of other transnational corporations, in the worldwide surveillance net Greenwald screams about. Now find me one single writing by Greenwald that talks about this in any way, or that would even suggest a way for democratic governments to get control of what Booz Allen and its ilk do. The writings of Tim Sharrock point this way, but Greenwald does not engage. Yet because Booz Allen is unconstrained by the oversight that the NSA has, its actions are even more obscured to us than are those of the NSA. Reporters like Jeremy Scahill have pointed this stuff out, yet are now strangely silent, and part of Omidyar’s new venture, all talking as if this is “bad US govt,” period.

I am sorry. Transnational corporate capital unencumbered by regulation, especially tied to military and intelligence, so typified by Booz Allen, and not the US government, is the single most destructive force in the world today, despite the benefits it also brings us. One finds virtually no critique of this kind of corporate power in Greenwald’s writing–this plus his working for and close association with libertarians is very concerning. Furthermore, we have the examples of Sharrock, the other NSA whistleblowers, and Barton Gellman, who present the same material or even better material without getting livid that the US gov is evil or that I won’t partner with the far right.

I don’t know what motivates Greenwald, but rather than getting so furious with those who raise questions about him, it would be easy enough for him to make far clearer how destructive corporate power is tied directly–not incidentally, directly–into the total surveillance he writes about. It would be easy for him to express clearly what he likes about democratic government. But these aren’t the passions that motivate him–they are something else.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 1:44 pm

LFC,
what BW said in 86 makes sense, but what Ronan said in 85 makes no sense whatsoever: I didn’t say or imply anything like “You can’t support expanding certain functions of the state while not others”. That’s what they call a ‘strawman argument’. I’m surprised you haven’t recognized it immediately.

“Liberals support the ideas of individual rights and privacy rights. … the Bill of Rts to the US Const”

So, that’s your argument against the feds collecting metadata from the phone companies? But the last I heard, it was deemed constitutional by a judge in New York, so it sounds like you can rest assured (at least for now) that the Bill of Rts has not been violated. And since the Bill of Rts is not violated, wouldn’t it be nice to have all that data, to be able to perform scientific analysis, to look for patterns, and produce various useful reports and graphs?

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LFC 01.20.14 at 2:02 pm

the last I heard, it was deemed constitutional by a judge in New York

I believe there are conflicting decisions from two federal district court judges: one said it was unconstitutional, the other said it was ok. It’s presumably going to work its way up to the SupCt (unless it’s deemed moot b.c of the announced changes — depends on whether/how they’re implemented, I suppose). And as far as the usefulness of the data itself for anything (intelligence or otherwise), I’m not sure. I don’t know what kinds of inferences, if any, can be drawn from a humongous pile of phone numbers. But I’ll yield here to others who may know more about this.

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Barry 01.20.14 at 2:24 pm

LFC: “On the other point, yes, we can see what they show us; all I was saying is that we can’t see what they don’t show us and we don’t really know what that is. But I think we are prob. more in agreement than disagreement overall here. “

True, but they also have a lot of leeway in leaking things (you know, the sort of authorized ‘leaks’ so beloved of establishment journalists). They can usually leak their
successes (while lying about the specific methods) while hiding their failures.

100

Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 2:35 pm

LFC 01.20.14 at 1:15 pm @ 89:

‘@MaoChengJi83
What Ronan said @85 and BW @86.
Also, aren’t you aware that liberalism (in its contemp. meaning in US politics) is about more than a “robust and managed welfare state”? Liberals support the ideas of individual rights and privacy rights. …’

In my experience people calling themselves liberals with respect to mainstream politics have found individual and privacy rights secondary to ‘national security’, that is, limitless internal surveillance and policing, extensive war and imperialism abroad, and a comprehensive pursuit of corporate (rich folks’) interests in both realms. (They actually use the term ‘interests’ when killing people.) These practices go back a long way, to World War 2 at least. Once you decide that individual and privacy rights are subordinate to some other principle, you can make them as small as you like by enlarging that principle.

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Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 2:47 pm

Oh, and conflating the Welfare state with the Left, which seems to now be a predominant theme among non-tribalist critics of Assange etc., make Bismarck a leftist. I think greater subtlety than this might be appropriate.

102

Kaveh 01.20.14 at 2:55 pm

David Golumbia @92 Both Pauls love Greenwald… (so do people like Amy Goodman, but my point is that both can’t be correct, can they?)

Why can’t they?

You’re saying the problem is that Booz Allen is tarnishing the government for their misbehavior as a private contractor. Two people (Snowden, Omidyar)[1] who have some kind of connection with Booz Allen have been responsible for bad press about the NSA (are you suggesting Snowden was secretly working for Booz Allen?). Why would it be to Booz Allen’s advantage to paint gov’t mass surveillance of citizens in a bad light, and along with it show the complicity of so many huge corporations in that surveillance? Do you think these revelations have been good for Google?

You make a good point that it’s kind of a bad sign that people are only upset about all the corporations with massive amounts of data on people now that we know the government has the data too–as if corporations couldn’t misuse it themselves. But people are mad about it now, and they weren’t before, and I think people will continue to be more concerned about it, at least, even if it were ‘just’ the corporations keeping all that data & not the gov’t.

Really, a lot of your comment (repeated accusations that GG gets “furious” about people raising questions about him–some links, maybe?) sounds like CT, which I don’t say lightly.

1. You just say Omidyar has ‘connections’ with Booz Allen & give no specifics, but I’ll give this the benefit of the doubt.

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Straightwood 01.20.14 at 3:03 pm

@92

It should be painfully apparent that all forms of unaccountable institutional power are toxic, irrespective of corporate or governmental categorization. The notion that Greenwald loves oppressive corporations and hates oppressive government is just silly. Again and again, commenters are diverted by searching for motives and prejudices, when the disclosed facts are sufficient to decide the issues. WHO CARES what Greenwald’s or Obama’s or the Pope’s motives are? It is their actions that count and the facts that reveal them.

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Bruce Baugh 01.20.14 at 3:05 pm

Bruce Wilder: I’m heavily in favor of digitalized medical data myself, insofar as this can be done with serious privacy protection. I am myself disabled by an auto-immune disorder and know and love many people with chronic illnesses and injuries. Far too many of us have suffered significant harm because medical authorities tried treating us with inadequate info – records delayed in transmission, misunderstandings about what patients told them, whatever.

This is really common among folks as sick as us. There wasn’t a month in 2013 that nobody I know and like suffered multiple days’ pain and misery from this sort of lack of info. Every year at least one person I cared about dies from it.

Now it’s true that nobody force a doctor, nurse, or technician to read and understand the record of a patient’s diagnosis and treatment. But where it’s available immediately in a format the treaters regard as properly authoritative, this kind of misery goes way down. Way, way down. I like to think that being in favor of it doesn’t commit me to technocratic neoliberalism, or technocratic liberalism; I certainly regard a lot of what happens under the Big Data label as pernicious bullshit that a proper charter of rights would prohibit.

105

Theophylact 01.20.14 at 3:06 pm

Well, I dunno, Anarcissie. I’m a pretty standard postwar liberal of the Adlai Stevenson-admiring sort: pro-union, pro-socialized-medicine, pro-affirmative action, and I’m solidly also pro-privacy. Yet I don’t think the gummint should be free to put a GPS tracker on my car, or the equivalent on my phone and bank account, at least not without a warrant issued by a non-secret court.

106

bianca steele 01.20.14 at 3:25 pm

What is, exactly, the liberal critique of it?

My $.02: What LFC said @86, in part, but more: A belief in the power of anonymizing, firewalls, abstract rules, and so on, and a belief in the possibility of balancing conflicting values, that will permit appropriate helping (not “managing,” as LFC pointed out–it is for the individual’s good that he’s helped, not society’s) without violating anyone’s privacy. Then you’d probably have to add a willingness to believe conflicting values were in fact balanced, by deciding some groups just need to have less privacy than others, either for their own good, or because they’re less deserving.

I’d say that probably when liberals start to think of “society,” they go over either to neoconservatism, or to what I’d call the US version of neoliberalism (see a bunch of Ben Alpers’ posts on the S-USIH blog), or they don’t really mean “society,” instead they’re really thinking about groups of individuals and society has an instrumental meaning for them, helping individuals’ well-being. Is my guess.

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Simon 01.20.14 at 3:33 pm

@ David Golumbia. I am no fan of Glenn Greenwald and think his style of argument is offensive and absurd. But your post is as much full as guilt by association as Wilentz’ piece and, I’m sorry to say it, your piece in Jacobin is well. EG: Snowden worked for Booz Allen and transnational capital is bad so…! (?) Google sponsors the electronic frontier foundation so their work is illegitmate….! (?). I don’t know what kind of left politics you hold but if being associated with a search engine is so damning I’m not really sure many of the social democrats here are going to be on board.

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Kaveh 01.20.14 at 3:39 pm

Plume @58 Generally, they refuse to construe corporate power on the same order as governmental power; in close alignment with libertarianism, they implicitly suggest companies like Google and Facebook should be entirely unconstrained by governmental oversight.

This search for a hidden corporate agenda ignores a lot of the nuanced, interesting discussion that is going on. For example, I like Boing Boing a lot, it tends to be lighter reading, so maybe doesn’t receive the intellectual credibility of people who write non-fiction books about these issues, but it both promotes a lot of stuff this article associates with cyberlibertarianism (e.g. the EFF, making certain public records freely available) and clearly does not treat technology as a panacea, “portray government as the enemy of democracy rather than its realization,” or believe that “society’s problems can be solved by simply construing them as engineering and software problems”.

109

Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 3:42 pm

@101 – So you have been at odds with your leadership, e.g. Stevenson winds up at U.N. defending American invasion of Vietnam.

110

Donald Johnson 01.20.14 at 3:42 pm

“WHO CARES what Greenwald’s or Obama’s or the Pope’s motives are? It is their actions that count and the facts that reveal them.”

I mostly agree with this. Not entirely–motives do matter to me to some degree, but I’ll worry about Greenwald’s motives and his own character flaws when he runs a drone assassination program or keeps track of my phone calls.

111

Donald Johnson 01.20.14 at 3:44 pm

Though I inadvertently fell into something I deplore when others do it–it’s not so much the tracking of my phone calls that worries me (not that I approve of it), but the fact that the government will no doubt use this technology to make investigative journalism and whistleblowing as difficult as possible.

112

Simon 01.20.14 at 3:45 pm

Furthermore yes both the Pauls and Amy Goodman can be correct because A) They are both extremist politically and do not appreciate nuance, and B) civil liberties are a part of both liberalism and social democracy and libertarianism. Is this really so hard?

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Plume 01.20.14 at 4:05 pm

Simon @103,

Well, transnational capitalism is bad. More than just bad. Capitalism itself is the root of the vast majority of our problems. It is the cause of them, as it is built to lead to economic apartheid. It’s based on economic apartheid, from the individual business on up.

Those are its internal dynamics, if left unchecked. Taking the model from the local to the international just extends the massive damage and its control, and puts us ever closer to the day when we pollute our way out of a home on this earth.

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Straightwood 01.20.14 at 4:06 pm

This discussion is making clear the need for a political spectrum that is orthogonal to the Left-Right axis. At one end would be extreme individual humanism, and at the other would be institutional authoritarianism. The Left-Right spectrum is almost completely useless in dealing with political issues in the Internet era, yet because it is so deeply entrenched it blocks constructive discourse.

The greatest intellectual failure of our era is the inability to create radically new political structures appropriate to our greatly changed technological circumstances. We have lost the ability to think like founders and framers, and until we recover it we shall continue to stumble in political darkness.

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Corey Robin 01.20.14 at 4:07 pm

Stepping back from the immediate fray, I think the big problem here is that the liberal left in the US — I’m deliberately narrowing my focus — used to be able to two things at the same time: defend the welfare state (albeit critically: cf. the welfare rights movement) and critique the warfare state. The high tide of that was in the early to mid 70s, when all those new members of Congress elected in the wake of Nixon and then Watergate mounted a fairly serious — if ultimately limited — pushback on the national security state. Since then it’s become increasingly difficult to find liberals in politics (again, deliberately setting aside leftists or civil liberties folk on the blogosphere like Scott Lemieux) who are able to robustly defend civil liberties, critique the warfare state, AND defend social democracy. Into that fray step people like Snowden or Glenn (who does in fact defend certain parts of the welfare state, as he notes above, but it’s not his main beat). To my mind the real issue here isn’t whether Snowden is a libertarian or not; it’s that we don’t have the kind of *prominent* political formation that used to be second nature to certain parts of the liberal left. That’s why it’s almost second nature for someone like Wilentz to engage in the slippage he does between the surveillance state and the liberal democratic state; they really are the same thing. But that’s just a symptom of a larger problem among many liberals. Again, I’m focusing on liberals in politics.

Also the lack of focus on the private face of repressive power: Agreed. I’ve been banging on that drum since as long as I can remember. But again it’s symptomatic of a much larger problem on the liberal left. I really don’t think the answer is to bang on the good work people are doing critiquing the surveillance state or the state in its repressive capacity or to tar that work with the brush of libertarianism. I think the answer is for the rest of us to try and extent their analysis to the private sector. And to distinguish between repressive state action and those actions and achievements of the state that we would like to defend and extend.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 4:13 pm

David Golumbia 92,

Thanks for commenting here. I liked your article a great deal — and Jacobin overall — which is why I linked to it.

People also gloss over the fact that the Paul’s aren’t against state control. Just federal. They are fine with “big government” at the state level.

See Ron Paul’s odious legislation, with its Orwellian name of We the People, that seeks to enshrine the power of individual state governments over individual citizens who happen to live in them:

From the wikipedia entree:

We the People Act

We the People Act. H.R. 539

, 2009-01-14, originally H.R. 3893

, 2004-03-04. Forbids all federal courts from hearing cases on abortion, same-sex unions, sexual practices, and establishment of religion, unless such a case were a challenge to the Constitutionality of federal law. Makes federal court decisions on those subjects nonbinding as precedent in state courts,[58] and forbids federal courts from spending money to enforce their judgments.

Because it forbids federal courts from adjudicating “any claim involving the laws, regulations, or policies of any State or unit of local government relating to the free exercise or establishment of religion”, secularists have criticized the bill as removing federal remedy for allegations of state violation of religious freedom.[59] As an example of potential for violation,[citation needed] Article 1 of the Texas Constitution provides the (currently unenforced) requirement that office-holders “acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being”. The Democratic Underground online community published the holding that the bill would give state sexual-orientation laws special immunity.[60] The bill is comparable to other jurisdiction stripping legislation such as the Constitution Restoration Act.[61]

Paul told Congress, “The best guarantor of true liberty is decentralized political institutions, while the greatest threat to liberty is concentrated power.”[61] In April 2006 the Traditional Values Coalition encouraged its contacts to lobby their representatives for passage;[62] the bill was also endorsed by columnist Rev. Chuck Baldwin,[61] and cosponsors include Roscoe Bartlett, Tom Tancredo, Sam Johnson, Walter Jones, Jr., John A. Sullivan, John Duncan, Jr., and Ted Poe.

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LFC 01.20.14 at 4:16 pm

Barry @95
Re “they can usually leak their successes” — they can leak some successes, prob. not all for fear of compromising things. Again, I don’t know. I have no part. interest in playing their defender on this thread though.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 4:20 pm

Corey Robin 111,

But from my reading, the people being tarred with one brush are those who do want to include a serious critique of the private sector. They’re the ones libertarians go after, often calling them “Stalinists” or, at least “Statists,” as if we were living in McCarthy’s 1950s.

And, what is easier to do these days? Get the media to deal with corporate power or government? Given the fact that the media are owned by corporate power, they’re all too eager to shift the topic to government — which, at this point in the American experiment, no one, left or right, seems to like. And with a lot of good reason.

To me, it’s damn healthy to have that skepticism about government. It’s about time. But not to match it with a healthy skepticism about the capitalist system, and to condemn all attempts to even talk about alternatives?

Actually, not just condemn. Completely shut out.

We have far more work to do in our focus on the private sector than the public. The emphasis is massively out of balance at present.

(Own and loved your book, The Reactionary Mind, btw)

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SusanC 01.20.14 at 4:24 pm

There are other political topics that lead to strange political alliances. Take gay marriage for example: there gay rights proponents from both the left and the right. Someone from the UK left could be in favor of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 — which was passed by the coalition government — while also being against nearly everything else the coalition government did. I don’t think think it’s a valid argument against gay marriage to just say that some of the people who support it are Tories. In a similar vein, people can be with Snowden/Assange on the particular issue of unaccountable spy agencies, while seriously disagreeing with their politics on other issues. (Feminists and Assange comes to mind…)

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Barry 01.20.14 at 4:41 pm

LFC 01.20.14 at 4:16 pm

Barry @95
“Re “they can usually leak their successes” — they can leak some successes, prob. not all for fear of compromising things. Again, I don’t know. I have no part. interest in playing their defender on this thread though.”

They don’t need to leak all, or even most, and not even ‘many’; just some.

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adam.smith 01.20.14 at 4:44 pm

It’s quite obviously possible to agree with people on one issue and vehemently disagree on others. And so, contrary to what Wilentz will have us believe, it’s absolutely no problem for mainstream liberals or folks on the left to appreciate Snowden’s leaks and what they have done to expose the surveillance apparatus and to disagree with him on anything from guns to the welfare state.

But I think David Golumbia is right that once you get to forming actual alliances that becomes a different issue. Given the history of libertarianism and states’ rights in the US, can one really in good conscience team up with (as in – appear at panels of, praise their work etc.) the CATO institute or the Pauls even if they happen to be right on a particular topic? And even if you think the answer should be yes — should you really act as if everyone who disagrees with you on that is an apologist for torture and surveillance?

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politicalfootball 01.20.14 at 4:47 pm

Again and again, commenters are diverted by searching for motives and prejudices, when the disclosed facts are sufficient to decide the issues.

Yeah, this. Once you’re liberated from judging Greenwald by his words and actions, you can talk about anything you want to. And people do.

It’s always interesting to me how rarely these discussions of Greenwald rely on links to his work. He’s a very clear and careful writer, and his critics have a hard time making his words mean what they want them to mean. Links are pointless anyway, because it’s not what he’s saying that matters, it’s what he really means.

I think he means what he says.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 4:55 pm

Adam Smith 117,

Agreed. No reason to form alliances with right-wing libertarians or cozy up to them, or lavish praise on them. Too much of what they stand for is odious and incredibly destructive. I don’t want to give them any more oxygen.

Now, left-wing libertarians (like Chomsky) is a whole nuther matter. Liberals should embrace them, instead of mocking and deriding them at every turn.

In fact, the really crazy thing here is the lack of much of an attempt at all for the left to rally around, focus on, shine a spotlight on leftists who hold strong civil rights and civil liberties positions. Rather than the rather desperate-seeming desire to find right-wingers to like, look to the left’s own bench of All Stars.

Plus, for pretty much everyone on the right, civil rights and civil liberties are in conflict, and they choose civil liberties in that battle. And their conception of those liberties are decidedly business-centric, not citizen-centric. Business interests trump those of our citizens. The left? We choose both and don’t agree about the conflict in the first place. And we rightly choose the p0werless over the powerful.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 4:59 pm

political football 119,

My experience reading GG on Salon was that he was really, really into questioning motives as well. And that was the general atmosphere amongst his clique of commenters. GG wasn’t nearly as bad as his clique. But he did set the tone.

(Of course, he did a lot of great work on top of that. I admire his tenaciousness in the face of a great deal of pushback from the powers that be. But he is not without his faults.)

I will try to find some links to demonstrate this. He’s no longer there, of course, but they should still be available.

125

Simon 01.20.14 at 5:03 pm

@ Corey Robin 111 and Others. Wouldn’t you argue that there is a tension between preserving civil liberties, which is predicated on an inviolable sphere of private action and privacy and the democratic welfare state, which is interested in probing private power in all it’s forms? Think of the civil rights act. It DOES violate freedom of association, presumably a civil liberty, but does so because the exercise of private power in this situation infringes upon the liberty to earn a living and social justice. Pretending like everything the left wants in this case can fit together without contradiction is simply a fairy tale.

126

Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 5:04 pm

“and I’m solidly also pro-privacy.”

Everybody is pro-privacy, like everybody is against Saddam Hussein; I don’t think this is the issue. But some are more fond of centralized technocratic solutions than the others.

The NSA wants to keep your phone records because they can’t tell today if 5 years from now you’ll become a suspect, a ‘person of interest’, or whatever they call it. You watch The Wire and you sympathize with the special task cops, of course, and you feel their frustration when their every attempt to catch the bad guys is defeated by one bureaucratic red tape or another. So here, when someone commits a crime, the NSA will be able to trace that person’s phone calls for years back and investigate the connections, the network. It sounds quite reasonable.

The objection, I think, is of a libertarian nature: you can’t trust them. Once they have this information, for sure they’ll use it for something else (as Donald suggested). But the ideological mistrust of the government is not a typical liberal trait; in fact, it’s usually actively discouraged and mocked. So, what gives? Is this just about the way this program is run (as Bruce suggested)? Can it be modified and become acceptable and desirable?

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Glenn Greenwald 01.20.14 at 5:08 pm

To David Golumbia:

Both Pauls love Greenwald, have him on their websites and shows frequently, do not question him about his political orientation or that his work fits neatly into theirs (so do people like Amy Goodman, but my point is that both can’t be correct, can they?);

There are a whole array of big issues on which (many) liberals and (many) libertarians agree, from the surveillance state to drug legalization to gay marriage to anti-imperialism to the evils of crony capitalism.

That’s why when Alan Grayson wanted to Audit the Fed, he teamed up with Ron Paul. That’s why when Dennis Kucinich wanted to ban the assassination of US citizens without due process, he teamed up with Ron Paul. That’s why when John Conyers wanted to ban NSA domestic bulk spying, he co-sponsored a bill with Tea Party Rep. Justin Amash. That’s why Ron Wyden, right this very minute, is working with Rand Paul on curbing NSA abuses. That’s why both the early Tea Party and Occupy protests were spawned by opposition to the Wall Street bailout. It’s why Al Gore, when he wanted to protest civil liberties abuses in 2006, stood with Bob Barr a major rally. It’s why the ACLU worked on challenges to the Patriot Act alongside a variety of right-wing groups. And it’s why I worked with the Cato Institute on a major study concerning the success of drug decriminalization in Portugal.

If you say that people should only work with the Ideologically Pure, that’s fine. I don’t agree – I think that’s incredibly self-indulgent – but that’s at least a cogent position. But do you apply it consistently? Is it OK to work with Democrats (like Barack Obama) on an issue-by-issue basis even as they drone-kill children, spy on everyone indiscriminately, prop up the world’s worst dictators, advocate trade agreements that degrade the environment and the poor, and engineere the Wall Street bailout while doing little to nothing for people in foreclosures?

This guilt by association method – he worked with someone Impure on an issue and now is infected with that impurity! – is just childish. But worse, it’s rarely applied consistently. It’s usually just a means to enforce partisan loyalty: somehow, it’s OK to work with Bad Democrats, just not with anyone else.

On Twitter, he actually criticized Wilentz because former Facebook exec Chris Hughes owns the New Republic, while constantly jumping down the throats of–but never, to my mind, satisfactorily answering–anyone who tries to get him to explain why it’s good for him to be working on Omidyar’s dime.

That never happened. I criticized Chris Hughes directly for failing to employ fact-checkers for this article. And, separately, I criticized Wilentz for what he wrote. What I did not do is what you claimed – criticize Wilentz for writing for Hughes; that’s because I judge a journalist on what they write and say, not the identity of the owner of the venue where they say it.

Now find me one single writing by Greenwald that talks about this in any way, or that would even suggest a way for democratic governments to get control of what Booz Allen and its ilk do. The writings of Tim Sharrock point this way, but Greenwald does not engage.

You mean like, say, something like this?

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Plume 01.20.14 at 5:11 pm

Simon 121,

It’s not a contradiction if you don’t put business ownership at the top of the heap, and privilege their wishes above all others, as the right does. At the individual level, it is both a civil right and a civil liberty to be able to, say, sit at any lunch counter and order breakfast. It’s only a violation of civil liberties from the point of view of a (bigoted) business owner. And since he or she has decided to open up to the public, he or she no longer gets to narrow their field of association, because they don’t get to determine the meaning of “the public.”

They’ve given up their rights of limited association by opening up their business (public) doors to all and sundry. They have no right to open up their doors to just X or Y or Z.

Their homes? That’s an entirely different matter, and that goes back to the individual citizen level again. Leftists support that distinction.

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David Golumbia 01.20.14 at 5:13 pm

@kaveh 98

“why can’t they”?

are you really asking this? on this site? do you really think the Tea Party and the Left are on the same side? Does that pass the sniff test? Do you remember the sequester, the 35+ anti-Obamacare votes engineered by Pauls & the Tea Party, the carefully-planned disempowerment of any actual Left work on Obama’s part from the moment he took office, the abuse of the filibuster, the debt ceiling again and again and again? all these people want to do (see: West Virginia) is deprive government of the power to constrain capital.

Ron Paul has strong ties to the John Birch Society (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-reinbach/president-ron-paul-ron-pa_b_890037.html), opposes any and all government work to guarantee equality, considers money the most important measure of freedom, etc. You say “civil liberties” is the thing Paul and the Left have in common, but I think what the Pauls (and the Tea Party) mean by “civil liberties” looks very different on close examination than it does to the Left. Paul has argued for things like the “civil liberty” of restaurant owners to keep blacks out of their establishments. Pauls & the Tea Party they “associate” with hate EEOC, ACLU, Brown v Board, and so much else. They represent big $.

you say “guilt by association,” but politics is largely about who we associate with. I can’t imagine a cause for which I will ally with people who openly declare their hatred of the Constitutional principles to which I adhere. That’s true for my Jacobin piece, too, which is full of links to sources. Your claim can only be construed as “fundamentally, libertarians and the Left are on the same side,” which is exactly the claim I and NSFWcorp and others have been trying to root out, because it’s not just wrong, but it works for the Right, not for the Left.

you say “conspiracy theory,” yet everything I refer to is open, public, easily-accessed, such as the quotations from Assange–is that “guilt by association”? He exclusively endorses Ron Paul and Rand Paul in US politics. Further, that’s been true for years, as those of us who’ve been following know. Does the Left back the Pauls now? Is that a coherent view? It’s conspiracy theory to say that having people on the right and the left think they are on the same side, both mean the same thing by “freedom,” that giving Google and Facebook and others more and more power is good for Left causes, that these are contrary to common political sense?

I didn’t want to barrage this forum with links, so try Googling “Omidyar Booz Allen.” Here’s one of many links: http://www.minds.com/blog/view/264199355085361152/5-unnerving-documents-showing-ties-between-greenwald-omidyar-and-booz-allen-hamilton

You also don’t seem to have the Booz Allen picture right. Snowden worked for Booz Allen as a contractor to the NSA, not the NSA directly; he says so himself, so does Booz Allen; it’s not up for dispute. Even in Obama’s recent “reform” of the NSA, the actual effect was to push authority outside of government and into private contractors’ hands. There is no conspiracy theory: Booz Allen, like many other military & intelligence contractors, is a major bad actor in this story–I forget the percentages but more NSA “employees” work for Booz Allen & other contractors than for NSA directly!–and being beyond FISA & congressional oversight, should be at least as serious objects of concern for those worried about civil rights as are governmental agencies. Furthermore, my conception of the state says that governments, not private corporations, are the proper sites for military and law enforcement power. The effect of Greenwald’s current stance and much of the libertarian response to it is to give Booz Allen and others like it more access to those police and military powers, while depriving them to the State; that’s what libertarians and their corporate buddies want; it’s what Greenwald should be complaining about. Instead, he rarely if ever mentions it. And he now works with/for a billionaire who has direct and indirect corporate ties to the companies he doesn’t talk about–and let’s not forget that in one of his earlier, more obviously Left periods (though he also had an overt Right period before that), indirect ties between corporate $ and journalism was a major object of his ire. As I mention, he even tweeted this about Wilentz’s story, despite the huge amount of criticism he has gotten for working with Omidyar (much more directly than Wilentz works for Chris Hughes). Those are the facts; what you make of them is up to you.

@SusanC writes: “people can be with Snowden/Assange on the particular issue of unaccountable spy agencies.” Define “agencies.” I am even more worried about Booz Allen having that power–and frankly by the kind of power Axciom and the like have–than I am about the law enforcement and intelligence arms of a democratically-elected government having them. The direct effect of pushing these powers out of those hands is to push them into private hands, if we lack the regulation to prevent that, and we do. So I don’t see Snowden/Assange being on the same side as I am here, because they refuse to look at the public-private partnerships that are at the heart of all of these efforts (not partnerships with providers like Google, but with direct military and intelligence contractors who actually build, maintain, and often operate the specific systems Greenwald et al complain about: to cut to the chase: why is it awful for the US Gov to operate something like PRISM under FISA, Congressional oversight, etc., but of no interest that Booz Allen operates something like PRISM with no oversight whatsoever?–because Snowden’s own documents make clear that this is exactly what’s happening.

As for Greenwald’s outrage, if you are commenting on this and don’t read his Twitter feed, you really are missing a huge part of the story. He is furious, all the time, and even worse, his story changes all the time. See, for example, Sibel Edmonds’s careful scrutiny of the story of David Miranda at Heathrow, where there is just no way to construe the facts except that Greenwald repeatedly, angrily, and knowingly lied, about quite a lot, and maybe more than that: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/01/06/part-ii-david-mirandas-detainment-the-calico-kitten-in-wag-the-dog/.

Greenwald’s Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/ggreenwald

Here are some choice recent items, just to show his frequent use of invective, personal insult, and disparagement of others’ credentials as modes of interaction; they are even worse if you go father back, particularly his response to Left resistance to the stopwatching.us movement, to Sibel Edmonds, to “Rancid Honeytrap,” and others:

“If a magazine struggling for relevance is bought by a Facebook tycoon, wouldn’t you think they’d fact-check a big, long cover attack piece?”

“Sociopathic National Security State insiders given anonymity to fantasize about murdering Edward Snowden http://www.buzzfeed.com/bennyjohnson/americas-spies-want-edward-snowden-dead … #TrustThem”

“Many journalists attacking specific NSA stories as reckless are too cowardly to attack NYT or WP for publishing them, so they attack Snowden”

Daily Beast has the temerity to speculate on the curious to anyone paying attention why Snowden lands in the territory of the two worst cyber-enemies of the US. While Greenwald will never admit that he himself is speculating about the meaning of the Snowden documents, here is how he responds to others speculating about something anyone reading anything about the espionage world is wondering:

“Would any self-respecting editor publish innuendo like this – “according to one of my sources in Hong Kong”? http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/03/snowden-lied-about-china-contacts.html …”

“Such crappy “journalism”: to smear govt critics with lies, claim you have an unnamed “source” whispering in your ear http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/03/snowden-lied-about-china-contacts.html …”

attacking the DB article (which was bad; I’m just noting tone) for using “unnamed sources,” he defends himself by citing a story that relies on… unnamed sources. and whose named sources are actually very critical of him, but he bleeps over that to prove his point:

US “officials have found no evidence he had help either within the NSA or from adversary spy agencies” http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/12/13/us-usa-security-nsa-idUSBRE9BC0YZ20131213 … #DailyBeast

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Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 5:15 pm

Plume 01.20.14 at 4:20 pm @ 114:

‘… To me, it’s damn healthy to have that skepticism about government. It’s about time. But not to match it with a healthy skepticism about the capitalist system, and to condemn all attempts to even talk about alternatives? Actually, not just condemn. Completely shut out. We have far more work to do in our focus on the private sector than the public. The emphasis is massively out of balance at present.’

I don’t see the great division. Where is it?

131

Plume 01.20.14 at 5:18 pm

Glenn 123,

That’s why both the early Tea Party and Occupy protests were spawned by opposition to the Wall Street bailout.

No. the Tea Party formed in opposition to the possibility of help for homeowners who were underwater. Remember Santelli’s rant on CNBC?

Billionaires jumped in, astroturfed the movement and concentrated their fury primarily against the ACA. They may later have (weakly, without much enthusiasm) grumbled about the bailouts and “crony capitalism,” but that was never their main focus, and certainly not the reason for their emergence or staying power.

132

Simon 01.20.14 at 5:18 pm

@ Plume 124: What about the customers? They are not business owners and their freedom of association is also being violated by forcing to sit with people they don’t like. I feel queasy stating this position, but I think that pretending that there is a clear distinction is wrong.

133

Sebastian H 01.20.14 at 5:24 pm

A lot of the discussion seems to get diverted into a more generalized state/private sector debate. And I suppose that is on topic because Wilentz so completely conflates being anti-security state with being generally anti-state that he treats them as essentially identical.

To Plume, and others of the corporations do it too side of the debate: the libertarian critique of corporations and governments is that when corporations want to really gain power over you, they do it by co-opting government power. Furthermore, even when corporations do co-opt lots government power they rarely get the really scary government powers, like throwing you in Guantanamo for the rest of your life, or killing you.

The proposed libertarian solution to this problem is to reduce government power. Now you can disagree with the libertarian solution to the problem all you want. That’s fine. But when you start talking about the enormity of the security state as revealed by Snowden, you really can’t compare what Google theoretically could do with what the United States Government already is doing. Google could track your google emails to all recipients, true. But it can’t do that AND all your phone call recipients, AND all of your movements by cell phone location, AND all of your posted letters, AND all of your checks. The US government can do all of those things. And Google definitely can’t detain you on the basis of a fake drug sniff from a dog or throw you in prison after invading your house, taking any cash that might be around, and finding a single joint. Corporations are very powerful, and some of them are really awful. But when they want to really want to gain control over you, they don’t try to reduce the power of the government, they try to DIRECT the power of the government.

So, back to Snowden. I wish I lived in a world where I could trust that the US government doesn’t do all of the things revealed in the Snowden leaks. I wish I could just be mad at Snowden for revealing super-important secrets that kept us safe. I wish I lived in a world where Obama cared about privacy, and didn’t think that he should preside over the largest expansion of the US security state ever. I wish I lived in a world where if Obama didn’t care about privacy, and wanted to preside over the largest expansion of the US security state, that he would have the debate about it in the open instead of in secret courts with secret rulings and that it wouldn’t require the Snowden leaks for him to think about doing so. (Not that I have any illusions about his recent speech meaning that he intends to do so.)

Snowden’s ultimate aims may or may not be shady. The stuff he revealed shouldn’t have needed to be leaked. We should have debated about it in Congress and made collective decisions about it. Getting too worried about how things will play out in ideological theory while sitting by and letting Bush II and Obama (and Clinton II???) set up an enormous security state is letting yourself get distracted.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 5:26 pm

Anarcissie 125,

The dialogue is decidedly focused on government abuse and malfeasance. It rarely includes the capitalist system, which is the major reason for that abuse and malfeasance. Who, exactly, “corrupts” whom? Government officials and pols, when and if it happens, are generally led astray and into abuse by and for the rich, on behalf of corporate power, the private sector wealthy — for their donors, at least. That private sector pulls government strings. The government is its puppet and fall guy.

To me, it makes no sense to concentrate on the puppets. Go after the puppet masters, cut the strings, and the puppets fall to the ground, useless, alone, powerless.

Of course, we need to make sure new puppet masters don’t come online, and deal with government officials and pols who are themselves private sector puppet masters — like Art Pope. But I see a definite imbalance in the targeting.

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David Golumbia 01.20.14 at 5:27 pm

I appreciate the tone of Greenwald’s response to me, and though I disagree with some of it, I will constrain my response to a request.

I think it is clear and beyond dispute and evident in the information you have released, but not in your own writing about that information, that the PRIVATE military-intelligence corporate world, including worldwide surveillance providers like Booz Allen (which I pick for Snowden’s having worked for them, not re: Omidyar) are every bit as serious a problem for freedom as is surveillance directly conducted by governments, and by dint of being formally outside of oversight, may be even more worrisome.

I would appreciate it if your future coverage emphasized this in detail and discussed it at least with the vigor you apply to the government.

136

Plume 01.20.14 at 5:31 pm

Simon 127,

Individual customers don’t get to decide what constitutes “the public,” either. When they step out into public space, they, too, are giving up their “rights” of association in a certain sense. They don’t get to control who exists inside that public space, which is open to all citizens. As in, everyone.

It’s not rocket science.

137

Corey Robin 01.20.14 at 5:36 pm

Simon: “Wouldn’t you argue that there is a tension between preserving civil liberties, which is predicated on an inviolable sphere of private action and privacy and the democratic welfare state, which is interested in probing private power in all it’s forms?…Pretending like everything the left wants in this case can fit together without contradiction is simply a fairy tale.”

Two things. I don’t think you really mean that civil liberties are predicated upon an inviolable sphere of private action and privacy. Many civil liberties are about protecting public action: freedom of speech and assembly, for starters, as well as some forms of freedom of association (i.e., the right to join political parties, labor unions, etc.) Those are not private rights, they are rights we exercise in public and need to be protected as public or political rights.

But I think I know the larger point you’re trying to make here, and I agree. There is a tension (I’m not sure about contradiction). Nothing in what I’ve written here or elsewhere pretends that there isn’t. But tensions are an unexceptionable part of politics. I don’t see anything inconsistent in acknowledging that those tensions are there and have to be negotiated, AND saying that we should embrace both the defense of civil liberties AND the democratic project of toppling repressive and autocratic forms of private power. Historically, those two projects have gone hand in hand: it wasn’t the defenders of private businesses against labor unions who created the ACLU, I can assure you.

138

Plume 01.20.14 at 5:38 pm

David Golumbia 130,

Well said. That the private sector is at least as big a problem as government, and at least as big an obstacle in the way of real democracy.

The vast majority of our national conversation does not recognize this. And the media, owned by the corporate powers that be, all but refuses to allow the discussion.

139

brandon 01.20.14 at 5:43 pm

Stepping back from the immediate fray, I think the big problem here is that the liberal left in the US — I’m deliberately narrowing my focus — used to be able to two things at the same time: defend the welfare state (albeit critically: cf. the welfare rights movement) and critique the warfare state.

My take is simply that a whole lot of internet parroting back and forth has led many on the US liberal left to accept the libertarian critique of the state, but declare themselves on the other side of that issue. And more or less just forget their (our) own critique of the (warfare) state. Which is stupid.

140

Plume 01.20.14 at 5:45 pm

Corey Robin,

This is very well put. I should have included “tension” as well above.

There is a tension (I’m not sure about contradiction). Nothing in what I’ve written here or elsewhere pretends that there isn’t. But tensions are an unexceptionable part of politics. I don’t see anything inconsistent in acknowledging that those tensions are there and have to be negotiated, AND saying that we should embrace both the defense of civil liberties AND the democratic project of toppling repressive and autocratic forms of private power. Historically, those two projects have gone hand in hand: it wasn’t the defenders of private businesses against labor unions who created the ACLU, I can assure you.

Again, the right almost always champions private property in the form of business ownership. They don’t seem to ever get the distinction between one’s home and a business open to the public. And they generally refuse to acknowledge that business owners don’t get to decide what constitutes that public. The public, by definition, is everyone. Business owners don’t have the “right” to limit that definition in practice. In their own minds? Certainly. But they can’t act to limit that definition.

141

Simon 01.20.14 at 5:48 pm

Thanks Corey for your response. You’re clarification on how some civil liberties are public rights is very astute- I didn’t think about it that way before. I’m also glad you concur that tension is inevitable in the project the left is interested in. I’ll just pitch in that that is why I find Greenwald so hard to read. He often assumes that those liberals who disagree with him or vice versa are not just mistaken or get the balance between competing values wrong but are actively evil. This is not a path towards productive political discourse.

142

Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 6:01 pm

Plume 01.20.14 at 5:26 pm @ 129 — Yes, what I’m saying is that I’m not seeing this division. Governments, corporations, institutions of various other kinds (academic, religious, and so on), are parts of the state and instruments of the ruling class. That is why there are so many revolving doors and channels between them. It’s not that governmental and ‘private’ corporate surveillance are both bad; it’s that they are two faces of the same thing.

143

JW Mason 01.20.14 at 6:07 pm


I appreciate the tone of Greenwald’s response to me, and though I disagree with some of it, I will constrain my response to a request.

What a cowardly, dishonest response. You make a bunch of serious accusations, and when they are shown to be false you don’t bother replying but change the subject to some new accusation. And you even have the nerve to present your insbility to defend what you wrote as a kind of courtesy!

David Golumbia, you need to write a frank admission you were wrong and an apology.

144

bianca steele 01.20.14 at 6:07 pm

But the ideological mistrust of the government is not a typical neo-liberal trait; in fact, it’s usually actively discouraged and mocked.

FTFY. (Thanks Mao, I’ve never used that acronym before.) Because since Watergate and Iran-Contra liberals have all fallen in line behind government and mocked anybody who failed to defend it?

145

Straightwood 01.20.14 at 6:10 pm

@136

productive political discourse

As Paul Krugman has painfully realized, not everyone plays by the same rules in public discourse. What arouses GG’s ire is deliberate dishonesty displayed by those who view discourse as a game board and say whatever it takes to win. This is what lobbyists and corrupt politicians do, and Greenwald’s resentment of them is richly deserved.

Obama in no way “welcomed” the public debate triggered by the Snowden revelations. The Snowden affair has been a huge embarrassment to his administration. Clapper lied to Congress when he said there was no sweeping surveillance of the US population. Until equivalent falshoods are found in GG’s statements, he holds the stronger position in this argument.

The cynical belief that everyone lies and cheats to advance their agenda is destructive to democracy. Let’s look at the facts and see who presents them accurately.

146

Theophylact 01.20.14 at 6:10 pm

Anarcissie @ 105: Just as no strategy survives contact with the enemy, no political philosophy entirely survives contact with the exercise of political power. Stevenson was about as honorable as a politician can afford to be, and he was lied to about both the Bay of Pigs and the Gulf of Tonkin. Sue me for his lack of perfection, or find me a better.

My point was that a healthy respect for privacy and support of standard liberal positions are not contradictory.

147

Simon 01.20.14 at 6:16 pm

Straightwood 140: You didn’t actually respond to the substance of what I said so I’ll just leave it at that.

JW Mason: Golumbia wasn’t wrong, he was simply incoherent.

148

politicalfootball 01.20.14 at 6:17 pm

I think Golumbia nails it in 130. It isn’t that Greenwald doesn’t address Golumbia’s concerns. Indeed, as Golumbia acknowledges, not only has Greenwald addressed those concerns sympathetically, but has gone much further and actually facilitated the publication of reams of information that exposes the problems that concern Golumbia.

Greenwald is offensive because no matter how much he exposes the corporate and government surveillance state, he doesn’t do it with Golumbia’s emphasis.

I would appreciate it if your future coverage emphasized this in detail and discussed it at least with the vigor you apply to the government.

This is where you end up when you demand purity. Snowden has some poorly thought-through opinions, so it’s wrong for Greenwald to work with him. Greenwald, whose opinions are tough to argue with, is a problem because his tone or his emphasis is wrong.

I didn’t think there was much promise in collaborating with the Paul types, largely for reasons that are being rehearsed in this thread. In my defense, I will say that I held this opinion some years ago, before Snowden and Assange et al became such crucial parts of the international debate. I can’t imagine an excuse is for holding that opinion nowadays.

149

bianca steele 01.20.14 at 6:23 pm

Anarcissie @ 137 Governments, corporations, institutions of various other kinds (academic, religious, and so on), are parts of the state

I’m ambivalent about the statement above, and I was instructed in it in college many years ago, but I really don’t think it’s possible to believe it’s true from a liberal point of view.

and instruments of the ruling class.

And we’re not supposed to talk about the French Revolution, I know, but surely from one POV there are governments that aren’t instruments of the ruling class, and from that POV the statement risks being normative, right?

150

Plume 01.20.14 at 6:33 pm

Anarcissie 137,

Apologies. I misread you, and agree with what you’re saying in your post.

151

Plume 01.20.14 at 6:36 pm

J W Mason 138,

Oh, come on. He responded within and prior to that post. He then chose online courtesy rather than escalate things into a flame war.

I see nothing “cowardly” in his response.

152

MPAVictoria 01.20.14 at 6:43 pm

“Everybody is pro-privacy, like everybody is against Saddam Hussein”
You know I wish this was true but I know a large number of people who have no problem at all with government surveillance and for whom privacy is not a concern at all.

Now I find that mentality weird but there you go.

153

Plume 01.20.14 at 6:44 pm

bianca steele 144,

We aspire to having governments that aren’t the puppets of the ruling class. But, so far, we haven’t been all that lucky in reaching those aspirations throughout history.

One could say that individuals within governments are certainly not pawns, or that parts of governments aren’t in cahoots with . . . But the net impact has always been rule by the elites.

Real democracy, including the economy — because it’s the economy in the modern world that creates our elites — is the only antidote.

Which is also why the liberal project is forever doomed to failure, because it refuses to include the economy in the democratic process. It, instead, champions “property rights” and “free enterprise” rather than actual social justice and equality . . . . all the while saying it is for the latter.

Unfortunately, the capitalist system itself is in direct opposition to equality and social justice. It must be, because it depends upon a severe imbalance in power between ownership and worker, ownership and consumer, and ownership and the preservation of this planet.

As mentioned in another thread, the liberal project is Sisyphus writ large.

154

Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 6:57 pm

bianca, “Because since Watergate and Iran-Contra liberals have all fallen in line behind government and mocked anybody who failed to defend it?”

Well, it is my impression that while it’s okay to criticize certain specific government actions, general mistrust is off-limits. Watergate and Iran-Contra were crimes perpetrated by corrupt individuals, and the solution is to be vigilant, to elect and appoint right-minded and principled candidates, and then everything will be great.

That’s why I’m asking if the program itself is unacceptable, or the only concern is the way it’s been handled.

155

MG 01.20.14 at 6:59 pm

GG had much of the same criticisms under of
Bush as he does of Obama. I don’t understand
why some liberals bring on the haterade because
he has principles which go beyond party
ideology. It’s messed up. If you hated abuse
of power – then it’s just as wrong whether D or R.

Also, people focus more on gov’t wrongs because
can have an impact by voting. Much of private
industry wrongs are hidden and one has little direct influence.

156

Consumatopia 01.20.14 at 7:06 pm

This reminds me of that seminar on The Priority of Democracy from last year, and the idea that democracy is the second-order system for choosing a first-order decision-making mechanism. Libertarians and leftists disagree very strongly on their preferred first-order system. But some of both groups see the surveillance state as a threat to the second-order system, so they cooperate with each other in fighting it.

As a liberal it’s one of my core beliefs that Power should have to justify itself to the rest of us rather than the other way around. Given that, asymmetry of information is always going to be suspect. The problem is not (just) that the NSA is so secretive in what it does with this information, or (just) that government surveillance is accompanied by indefinite detention and drones. It’s that democracy is trouble if the government (or any corporation or other bureaucratic hierarchy) is better at monitoring the people than the people are at monitoring them. Such a government can “nudge” our behaviors and beliefs in the direction it prefers without the rest of us even being aware of it.

157

Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 7:09 pm

It is almost as if it is not possible to create a highly organized society, which doesn’t make use of hierarchy, and making use of hierarchy, has an elite.

158

Jerry Vinokurov 01.20.14 at 7:11 pm

I think it is clear and beyond dispute and evident in the information you have released, but not in your own writing about that information, that the PRIVATE military-intelligence corporate world, including worldwide surveillance providers like Booz Allen (which I pick for Snowden’s having worked for them, not re: Omidyar) are every bit as serious a problem for freedom as is surveillance directly conducted by governments, and by dint of being formally outside of oversight, may be even more worrisome.

I’m surprised that this has gone unremarked-on, but here goes: the distinction between private actors like Booz Allen and public actors like the NSA are, at best, seriously fuzzy. There’s a great symbiotic relationship between these entities; indeed, if there weren’t, we wouldn’t even have the Snowden leaks. Trying to isolate the problem into little boxes isn’t going to produce anything useful, because to a large extent, military contractors and, well, the military operate in implicit if not always explicit synchronicity. That’s why the concept of the “national security state” exists in the first place, and it’s surely broad enough to encompass not just the NSA but all the contractors feeding at the public trough. Whether one “focuses” on this, that, or the other aspect of the problem, one should always keep in mind that these are just facets of a single complex system, not isolable independent actors.

159

William Timberman 01.20.14 at 7:16 pm

Given Glenn’s apparent confidence in his own intellectual trajectory, it’s not surprising that his conscience would be untroubled by a collaboration of convenience with the Cato Institute, or that he’d defend such collaborations as being both prudent under the circumstances and more effective than relying only on his own limited resources. I have a much darker and less certain turn of mind. If asked questions like Well all right, then, what would you do? my answer, as much as I can without becoming confused about my own motives, would be thin gruel for any activist, but it works for me. Some things can’t be fixed as easily as they can be broken.

160

Plume 01.20.14 at 7:22 pm

MG 150,

Also, people focus more on gov’t wrongs because
can have an impact by voting. Much of private
industry wrongs are hidden and one has little direct influence.

This is true, and it’s why we should move the private sector into the democratic sphere. Democratize it. All of it. The means of production should be held, owned and controlled in common by the people. All of us. Not just through our reps, or political parties, but in actuality and legally, under constitutional writ.

Above and beyond those parties. Regardless of them. Despite them. A right to a commons that transcends and trumps the vagaries of politics — in perpetuity.

161

Consumatopia 01.20.14 at 7:29 pm

Well, it is my impression that while it’s okay to criticize certain specific government actions, general mistrust is off-limits.

Liberals want accountable, not necessarily small, government. Libertarians wants small government, but not all of them want it to be accountable. There is a strain of libertarians that uses the same arguments they use against economic “planning” to argue against any legislative or judicial restrains or oversight on executive power. Their ideal government is something like Singapore–an unaccountable bureaucracy that Gets Shit Done and anyone who doesn’t like it can Vote With Their Feet and move to a different company town.

162

Plume 01.20.14 at 7:41 pm

Consumatopia 156,

I think it’s difficult to talk about American libertarianism without a good degree of myth-making thrown in. The version generally discussed here isn’t the one with deep historical roots. That would be left-libertarianism, which goes back to Marx and prior to.

The American version (which ignores history and people like Chomsky and his leftist version of said), has rather dicey roots. Some would say it’s been largely astroturfed, as discussed here:

http://www.alternet.org/visions/true-history-libertarianism-america-phony-ideology-promote-corporate-agenda

An excerpt:

Every couple of years, mainstream media hacks pretend to have just discovered libertarianism as some sort of radical, new and dynamic force in American politics. It’s a rehash that goes back decades, and hacks love it because it’s easy to write, and because it’s such a non-threatening “radical” politics (unlike radical left politics, which threatens the rich). The latest version involves a summer-long pundit debate in the pages of the New York Times, Reason magazine and elsewhere over so-called “libertarian populism.” It doesn’t really matter whose arguments prevail, so long as no one questions where libertarianism came from or why we’re defining libertarianism as anything but a big business public relations campaign, the winner in this debate is Libertarianism.

Pull up libertarianism’s floorboards, look beneath the surface into the big business PR campaign’s early years, and there you’ll start to get a sense of its purpose, its funders, and the PR hucksters who brought the peculiar political strain of American libertarianism into being — beginning with the libertarian movement’s founding father, Milton Friedman. Back in 1950, the House of Representatives held hearings on illegal lobbying activities and exposed both Friedman and the earliest libertarian think-tank outfit as a front for business lobbyists. Those hearings have been largely forgotten, in part because we’re too busy arguing over the finer points of “libertarian populism.”

163

MPAVictoria 01.20.14 at 8:01 pm

Mr. Pierce has just posted a pertinent blog post on this:

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/dr-king-and-surveillance-012014

“Is there any doubt, had there been a Dr. King in the past two decades who opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as vigorously as Dr. King opposed the Vietnam catastrophe at the end of his life, that the full might of the modern American intelligence apparatus would have landed squarely on his head? That his metadata would be unusually — How you say? — piquant in the various cubicles at NSA? That some of it would be strategically leaked to strategically important congresscritters and pundits and reporters? That, upon taking office in 2009, this president would have kept in place most of the programs with which that data on our new Dr. King was collected, perhaps tailoring them around the edges, perhaps installing some more weak-tea oversight than was there before, but keeping the basic philosophy behind the programs embedded in the American government as some sort of “balance” between security and civil liberties? I have none.”

164

Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 8:19 pm

Consumatopia: “Liberals want accountable, not necessarily small, government.”

I’m not even sure what ‘accountable’ means in general, in this context (elections?), but never mind. What does it mean for this particular program? Would this program be okay with a better oversight? With a congressional committee? FISA warrants for querying the database?

165

SoU 01.20.14 at 8:38 pm

people like the Pauls are currently working to, quite literally, take food out of the mouths of hungry american children. they consistently prove themselves to NOT be engaged in honest dialogue on policy issues of various stripes, consistently ignoring research/evidence i favor of ideological posturing. these things go beyond a ‘so what if they are not ideologically pure?’

Glenn, i have long respected you and your work, even before you went over to the Guardian and got such a big break re: Snowden. But one thing you have to realize is that that break has changed who you are as a player in this political game. you now have a certain level of notoriety/etc. that you did not posses before, and that brings with it a modicum of power to confer political legitimacy on your allies. when you choose the Pauls, rather than liberal senators with similar views on privacy (there are many), this is not a neutral act. there is a population of american voters who take your writings and advocacy on privacy very seriously, and by choosing rand Paul you play into his strategy of posturing himself as THE defender of privacy among US politicians. in so far as this legitimacy is transferable to other issues, on which he is quite frankly a moral monster, you are doing something very problematic

privacy issues are important, but they do not remotely touch upon the importance this day of defending the american welfare state, which is under extreme pressure from all sides. even if you are an activist not specifically concerned with poverty, you have to realize the pressing nature of that issue for america today. helping any who would exacerbate and then brush under the rug the challenges of being poor in america is, in my view, unconscionable

166

Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 8:59 pm

SoU 01.20.14 at 8:38 pm @ 161: ‘helping any who would exacerbate and then brush under the rug the challenges of being poor in america is, in my view, unconscionable’

There are some other fairly serious issues, like imperialism, war, militarism, and totalitarian surveillance and police power. Do you think the Bismarckian deal is worth setting them aside?

167

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:15 pm

@162
they are not as pressing in the current political circumstances facing america today, nor are they as easily addressed as something like the welfare state. when you ask americans about their political opinions on specific policy issues relating to the welfare state, they are clearly in favor of a robust government safety net (this result disappears the more abstract that you make the question however). issues of war and peace are far more deeply rooted in the american voting public and their conception of america’s role in the world, and for that reason far more intractable.

also, poverty is a fairly substantial enabler of american militarism in its own right, by making things like the all volunteer army a political possibility

paul would replace an imperial order abroad with a similar dynamic of exploitation and structural violence at home. the border is an illusion of those very forces you posture yourself in opposition to.

168

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:22 pm

Anarcissie 162,

All of that is true. But what is so frustrating to me is that some on the left believe they have to go outside the left to find anti-imperialist, antiwar, anti-surveillance, anti-drug-war movements and champions. They don’t. Hell, the left invented those movements.

And since people like Ron Paul and his son carry truly odious baggage and views, and have truly disgusting policy ideas for the most part, why bother with them at all? Those proverbial stopped clocks get things right twice a day, but it’s better to find good, working clocks instead.

Ron Paul, for instance, spent two decades trying to kill UNICEF and all aid to impoverished kids around the world. That, alone, is enough for me to despise him, and he adds so much more on top of that. He tried his damndest to block undocumented workers from using emergency room services, and pushed to build a 700 mile long fence on the Mexican border. Of course, he did no such thing for our border with Canada. Just the one with Mexico. And, despite his reputation for “freedom and liberty,” and his supposed opposition to government coercion, he pushed a bill that would force university campuses to allow military recruiters on campus, despite their explicit objections.

He’s a phony. Always was. And he son is even worse.

169

novakant 01.20.14 at 9:25 pm

The means of production should be held, owned and controlled in common by the people. All of us. Not just through our reps, or political parties, but in actuality and legally, under constitutional writ.

I’m as critical of unrestrained capitalism as the next guy on the left, it’s just that your proposed solution has never worked, will never work and whenever it’s been tried has caused just as much suffering as capitalism has. The best we can do is settle for something like Denmark – and that’s not so bad really.

170

Consumatopia 01.20.14 at 9:28 pm

“I’m not even sure what ‘accountable’ means in general”

No, stop right there. You and Wilentz are defining liberalism in a deeply illiberal way–as blind trust in authority. Liberalism is more than the welfare state. When we talk about a “liberal” faction in Egypt, for example, that has basically nothing to do with the welfare state, and everything to do with broader values like democracy, secularism, the rule of law, free speech, etc. Both liberals and libertarians recognize that the government is vulnerable to corruption and abuse of power. The libertarian solution is to shrink the government. The liberal solution is to enable to people to challenge and fix it. If you disagree with that, that’s fine, but that makes you an anti-liberal, not me.

171

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:30 pm

thanks to Plume @164 for elaborating. you also touch upon the pauls’ racist undercurrents, which are hard to prove so i didn;t want to get too deep in that issue above, but should be seriously disconcerting to people with leftist sympathies.

172

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:31 pm

Also, Paul, on his website, when he was running for prez, made certain to champion a strong military. He’s not against militarism at all, really. If he were, he’d call for steep cuts to the Defense budget. We could easily do without at least 75% of it, for starters. Move that instead to a new Green Complex, etc. But Paul doesn’t believe in preventing pollution or programs for sustainable developments, renewables, etc.

His perverse vision says let the pollution happen, then sue the perps afterward.

Also, one thing I noticed when trying to talk with the hordes of Paul bots who flocked to GG’s blog. They seem to agree that politicians are scum, and lie, and never make good on their campaign promises. Except when it comes to their messiah. He, alone, of all the politicians in history, supposedly would be the first.

American history is rife with presidents who change dramatically, once they hold power in their hands. They all do. There have not been any exceptions to that. But his bots truly believe he’s the last honest man.

Pleez.

173

Tyrone Slothrop 01.20.14 at 9:32 pm

@153: It is almost as if it is not possible to create a highly organized society, which doesn’t make use of hierarchy, and making use of hierarchy, has an elite.

Weird how that works, isn’t it?

174

Rob in CT 01.20.14 at 9:32 pm

Long comment eaten, damn. Short version: I think Greenwald comes off well in this argument. Those defending the NSA/the powers that be have general made poor arguments, and tend toward ad hom attacks on Greenwald, Snowden or both. It’s a bit like back in ’03 when if you were against the Iraq war you hated America and were “rooting for failure” and whatnot. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.

That said, not everything revealed by leakers has me tearing my hair out (e.g. spying on foreign leaders, even if they’re allies. Come on. Not fainting couch material, that).

175

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:36 pm

novakant 165,

It’s never been tried anywhere in the modern world on a national scale. Never. Been. Tried.

We have never had a truly democratic state, including the economy. The Soviet system was state capitalism, without democracy, and replaced one ruling class with another. No democracy. Nor did Vietnam, North Korea, Cuba, China, etc. etc. All of those systems were or are state capitalism, in essence. In no case was there a wall to wall Commons that transcended political parties, juntas, dictators, etc. etc.

See this thread for some discussion on the above:

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/01/13/the-repubs-wont-douthat/#comments

176

Sebastian H 01.20.14 at 9:37 pm

“when you choose the Pauls, rather than liberal senators with similar views on privacy (there are many)”. Name them. Name the Democratic senators who will stand up to Sen (D) Feinstein, Obama, and the security state Clintons. The reason he has to work with the Pauls is there are about four Democrats and three Republicans who will focus on these issues. That is about seven people. It isn’t as if there is a whole large party apparatus that is willing to lay down the law on real privacy concerns. If you can convince the Democratic Party to take it seriously, THEN, you can criticize using the Pauls.

177

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:39 pm

Novakant, a follow up:

Here’s Chomsky on socialism, the confusion, the misuse and abuse of the word/concept by both the Soviets and Americans.

178

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:40 pm

@165 “The best we can do is settle for something like Denmark “

Denmark, and the other countries with similar arrangements, did not get to where they are today through people thinking according to logic like your own. i don’t know the danish case specifically, but i know that in Sweden that during the crucial debates over the foundations of the social democratic state, people on the other side of the issue were leveraging arguments like yours against the very political-economic arrangements you are supporting.

there are good reasons why we should be distrustful of parecon type arrangements that plume frequently champions here. but these are not the reasons you give. your arguments have a status quo bias and repeat the classic conservative tactic of charging all attempts to better the world as futile. in fact, you could probably find conservatives saying something like “your proposed solution has never worked, will never work and whenever it’s been tried has caused just as much suffering” in the face of every major social change in the history of the modern world.

179

Simon 01.20.14 at 9:40 pm

@ Sebastian H: Leahy, Udall, Wyden just for starters

180

Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 9:40 pm

.. and I would have thought ‘the Pauls’ positives are pretty obvious. They have an ideologically committed base, strong media presence, weak temperaments not prone to thoughtfullness which can be utilised to make a lot of noise/simplistic arguments, plenty of money (independently – i think) for campaigns..etc
If you were politically active on this topic and *didnt* believe much could be done through normal political channels, I dont see why you wouldnt use the Pauls.

181

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:41 pm

Wyden and Udall, for starters.

182

Mao Cheng Ji 01.20.14 at 9:42 pm

Consumatopia, “The liberal solution is to enable to [the?] people to challenge and fix it.”

This doesn’t sound like a solution, it sounds more like a slogan. That is why I’m curious about this particular situation: would the NSA database be acceptable, from the liberal POV, with some additional oversight, like a congressional committee? But you won’t answer; instead you tell me that my inquiry makes me anti-liberal. Fine, but could you answer anyway, please.

183

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:45 pm

Sebastion H 172,

Why not go outside the system, then? Marshal forces beyond DC. Make your case without recourse to reactionaries at all. Why limit yourself to the Senate and one or two House members?

Given the fact of the tiny number even with the Pauls, as you note, you’re going to lose in the Senate anyway. Why elevate and improve the position of the Pauls, when it won’t result in victory for your cause, regardless? You’re just making them look good in the false light of the moment — without a thing to show for it.

184

Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 9:46 pm

Well, there obviously is no such thing as *the* ‘liberal POV’ so you’d have a range of opinions from scrap, to reform, to more oversight, to do nothing, to expand..

185

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:52 pm

@172 Sebastian H
” If you can convince the Democratic Party to take it seriously, THEN, you can criticize using the Pauls.”

this is not a reasonable way of evaluating political figures. there is no condition which has to be met by the other side that allows us to criticize Paul. if Paul is a racist, he is a racist, irrespective of whether or not the democrats are. if Paul is not in fact opposed to militarism as he claims to be (as noted by Plume above) then he can and should be criticized for his mendacity, irrespective of what side the democratic party establishment fall on.
Paul’s virtues and vices are his own. deflect and change the subject to the failures of the democratic party if you must, but don’t think that you are mounting a convincing defense of him in the process.

186

Anarcissie 01.20.14 at 9:53 pm

SoU 01.20.14 at 9:15 pm @ 163 — I don’t think I’m understanding what you’re recommending. Let’s take a hypothetical: Suppose Mr. Obama wants Congressional authorization to embark on yet another military adventure in the Middle East. The ‘libertarians’ oppose his plan. Liberals and leftists should (1) support the plan because the libertarians oppose it? (2) oppose it because they don’t like it, but not talk libertarians because they’re bad? (3) ally themselves with the libertarians to oppose this particular war? What?

As far as the importance of things goes, I am most strongly opposed to killing even a single innocent person, even if he or she is a foreigner. I realize this takes me outside the realm of normal American political discourse, but I’m stuck with it.

187

Plume 01.20.14 at 9:55 pm

Ronan 180,

To pick a nit. Liberals don’t want to scrap the system. They wouldn’t be liberals if they did. They’d be leftists, like meself. I started out with a liberal ID, wanted to “reform” the system, too, and then the light finally came on for me.

The system isn’t worth reforming, and it’s set up to block the kinds of reforms those of us on the left want anyway. Because it’s in the best interest for the system to block them. It requires vast imbalances of power and wealth in order to function and doesn’t want that to change. Won’t let it change. Though it may try to present the appearance, the illusion of change.

Capitalism is built on the premise of economic apartheid, from the individual business on out. The only real vehicle for reform of the system is the one protecting and defending that system.

188

Simon 01.20.14 at 10:01 pm

@ Plume. You have to realize that most people who read Albert’s Parecon and similar works do not see libertation from economic apartheid but a bureaucratic monstrosity and endless tedium over “balanced job complexes” and regional planning. Most American voters don’t want it: Read the book “Stealth Democracy” If worker owned firms can take off that would be good but it will still be within the context of a market system.

189

Plume 01.20.14 at 10:03 pm

anarcissie 182,

IMO, the answer is to vigorously oppose war, militarism, imperialism in all its forms. Vocally. Loudly. Aggressively. Passionately. But there is no need to talk about right-wing libertarians who may agree about those things here and there. There are more than enough left-wing movements and people on our side to talk about. We can easily leave the right out of the discussion.

It’s ironic to me that some on the left say we should acknowledge them. I can’t remember the last time they acknowledged us for doing or saying anything positive.

190

Consumatopia 01.20.14 at 10:06 pm

Of course if we’re talking about a broad term like “liberal”, we can’t get any more detail than a “slogan”. When you say “In fact, from the liberal POV, the more data is provided to the experts managing society, the better”, that’s sounds like as much of a slogan as anything I said. The only problem is that your “liberal” slogan happens to be anti-liberal. It’s blind faith in authority.

You can make a liberal defense of a particular database employed for particular ends. That’s not what I’m arguing here, and I won’t discuss that any further because it has no relevance to any point I’m making, and answering any question from Mao Cheng Ji is pointless. I’m only pointing out the error in the way you defined liberalism because Wilentz (and possibly Golumbia) likely made the same error.

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Sebastian H 01.20.14 at 10:07 pm

If there is one common theme explaining why US politics is so screwed up, it is because many of the political actors elevate Party over principle. For side issues, it is a barely tolerable argument that it is more important to support the party. But for issues as important as the pants-wetting security state, you need to take the votes where you get them. If you have to trade votes on the security state with votes to end unemployment, THEN you have a point. So long as deals like that aren’t necessary, you’re just playing ad hom games invoking the Pauls to shut down what should be a debate about how the security state is being made (currently by democrats).

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Plume 01.20.14 at 10:09 pm

Simon 184,

My suggested system is different from Parecon in most respects. I’ve sited it in the past to show that others have alternatives and my hypothetical doesn’t come out of thin air, etc.

The whole point of my alternative is to simplify life, open it up to greater freedoms, eliminate power centers, including bureaucracies and make things flow with greater ease. The whole point is to get rid of the artificially manufactured hustle and bustle of modern life to the extent possible, not just replace one set of (capitalist) bureaucracies with another (ecosocialist) set.

Another major, major point is to get rid of classes altogether to the degree possible over time. Again, we won’t replace one ruling class with another. The goal is to get rid of all classes.

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Plume 01.20.14 at 10:10 pm

“cited.”

194

Plume 01.20.14 at 10:11 pm

Sebastion H,

Which is one of the reasons we eliminate all political parties in my hypothetical.

195

Consumatopia 01.20.14 at 10:12 pm

John McCain and Lindsey Graham have no problem whatsoever cooperating with Dianne Feinstein or Joe Lieberman. If lefty doves and righty isolationists can’t cooperate similarly, we lose.

196

Ed Herdman 01.20.14 at 10:12 pm

Might as just stipulate there’s a big “I WIN” button, too.

197

John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 10:21 pm

The only “libertarian” connection is that Snowden and Greenwald are ‘libertarian socialists’ or left-libertarians ala Noam Chomsky. But this group has very little in common with the libertarian right. Conflating the two sides, as Wilentz does, is absurd. Libertarian socialists (as the term suggests) recognize individual rights but do not *privilege* individuals over the collective. The different between libertarian socialism and libertarian conservatism is as vast as any distinction between the left and the right.

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SoU 01.20.14 at 10:22 pm

@182.
the obvious response is to oppose the war from a leftist angle, allying with the many other leftist who would oppose such a war and build that coalition on your own terms. we don;t need libertarian political philosophy in order to argue that imperialist war is bad, so there is really nothing to be gained by joining that movement with all of its odious baggage.

also – through your hypothetical you are implying links between support for NSA surveillance and support for imperialist war which are very tenuous and quite frankly i do not think exist for many lawmakers. while in your mind they may be aspects of the same underlying issue, this is not generally the case.

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Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 10:24 pm

C: . . . democracy is the second-order system for choosing a first-order decision-making mechanism. Libertarians and leftists disagree very strongly on their preferred first-order system.

Electoral democracy would seem to be one element in systems for making elites compete peacefully for mass support and allow the political economy to adapt to change. Inevitably, it is only one element embedded in a complex and muddled system of distributed decision-making and strategic competition. Does distinguishing “first-order” from “second-order” highlight or obscure the particular state of a particular system? Where is the constitutional order that assigns “first-order” and “second-order” and how does it emerge?

WT: . . . Given Glenn’s apparent confidence in his own intellectual trajectory, it’s not surprising that his conscience would be untroubled by a collaboration . . . I have a much darker and less certain turn of mind.

Greenwald’s intellectual style — an analytical focus on deductive reasoning from first principles — no doubt served him well in his role as a civil liberties litigator and it is also a style, which can find libertarianism, with its anarchist roots, a cordial — or at least legible — political philosophy. The anarchist is forever re-inventing politics by reasoning deductively from axiomatic first principles, their politics always a self-consciously constitutional politics, but it is a constitution they author on the fly, by their own lights alone. The anarchist, left or right, respects neither the Charter nor Experience. I think Greenwald, to his credit, respects the Charter and the Experience that chains of judicial reasoning represent. For Greenwald, basic civil liberties principles, such as that the accused be allowed to confront her accusers and see the evidence against her, are grounded not just in the general words of a Charter, but also in the historical Experience of politics and law. Codifying experience as a principle economizes on information processing and enables flexible adaptation to new circumstances.

Principles are a weak reed in politics; they can make for good rhetoric and bumperstickers, and their very ambiguity is useful to the law: allowing a legislature to agree to disagree, by coming together on generalities, while delegating the details of decision-making to those second and third-order processes, of regulatory and judicial litigation and private negotiation or discretion. In a legislature, a variety of incommensurable viewpoints, individually incoherent and contradictory, can be useful, even acting as a lubricant, like the bed of gravel and slurry, which carries a glacier on its inexorable path to the sea.

But, the ultimate ground of Principle is Power, the organized ability to act in concert. Without Power to check the application of Principles or enforce a critique, without the organizational resources to develop a political program, critique and theory to give operational meaning, principles are nothing more than slogans in the hands of PR professionals, gradually losing their ability to provoke a reliable response from an audience, as they are overused and become cliches and ritual phrases.

The Right has an easier task — it need only organize those, who are already organized, and by dint of their organization, enjoy positions of vested privilege as elites. The Left must organize the masses, and as soon as it tries to organize the masses, must compete with the Right to do so.

“Where is the Left?” is a re-current question in this thread, and in political discussions on CT, because there’s a power vacuum. It may be hard to see, when the corporate plutocracy seems so powerful, but there’s little in the way of mass politics in the U.S. or Western Europe. The politicians and political parties and some of the interest groups and other institutions have stumbled on like zombies drained of blood and animating passions, but there’s no mass politics, beyond a bit of cheerleading on cable news for jerseys of this color or that.

I think every mention of the Cato Institute ought to come to with a photograph-suitable-for-framing of their headquarters building in Washington — that building’s architectural excess exposes essential truths of that organization that no amount of philosophical banter will illustrate as well. These enemies of rent-seeking have found themselves a reliable source of economic rents. They have resources. No mass following, but they have resources.

The challenge for a civil liberties champion, like Greenwald, is that the authoritarian followers, who must make up the rank-and-file soldiery of any political mass movement have bedrock political attitudes, which find Greenwald’s commitment to institutional process fairness incomprehensible. They have an egalitarian’s sense of fairness, to be sure, colored by lots of resentments, but their disinterest in the arcane details of policy makes them impatient fans of expedience. At best, a well-organized political movement can marry the authoritarian’s moral conventionalism and patriotism to an uncomprehending support, reinforced by the authoritarian follower’s natural egalitarianism and resentment of elites. It’s a tricky needle to thread, but New Deal and post-WWII liberalism managed it. The non-violent tactics of Martin Luther King, whom we honor today in the U.S., were brilliantly designed to elicit the emotional support of authoritarian followers. But, neoliberalism (Charles Peterson – Washington Monthly version) consciously let go of the reins in the 1970s, and felt that abdication was a relief.

Liberals were always a bit uncomfortable in their role as leaders of the masses, leaders of a great many people, whose politics consist of the attitudes of authoritarian followers, and who are always prone to be drawn off by demagogues and frauds. Liberals do not like having to fashion the kinds of “populist” appeals that work well for authoritarian followers; they often don’t like to do the organizational work of keeping the “club” together, or delivering privileges and goods to the membership. But, without the authoritarian followers, liberals have no claim on political power; a head without a body, without strength or commitment. Without unions, urban political machines, ethnic, cultural, regional, professional or business “clubs”, liberalism (or socialism) is nothing but a will’o’wisp. And, yes, as bob mcmanus reminds us, wisely, without the organization and discipline to engage in violence, liberalism is dead, an uninteresting and irrelevant mishmash of meaningless symbols.

The atomism of social life and the low ebb of social affiliation in society may be aiding the cause of social tolerance and progress, and a positive development for liberals, but it is also a source of political weakness.

200

Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 10:34 pm

Sebastian H: If there is one common theme explaining why US politics is so screwed up, it is because many of the political actors elevate Party over principle.

The problem is the Parties rest on Money, and not mass membership organization, so the general or public interest is always distorted at best. Money can buy elections from a largely disengaged public. But, even if there was effective mass-organization, civil liberties issues would be tricky, because the political attitudes of authoritarian followers do not usually find civil liberties legible; they have to be translated.

A narrow and supremely wealthy oligarchy can like a legal civil liberties, which mimics the chartered privileges of a feudal elite, and without mass politics, that’s what will surely emerge.

201

Plume 01.20.14 at 10:39 pm

John Drinkwater 193,

Sorry, but Greenwald is not a libertarian socialist. Not by any stretch of the imagination. You are correct to call Chomsky that, as he has called himself an LS.

Greenwald is very much a supporter of capitalism and markets, and his support, with caveats, of the Pauls is not reproduced by Chomsky.

Greenwald is a civil libertarian, and leans left on most social issues, at least from my readings. But he shares space with the center-right on economic issues — again, from what I’ve read. While I certainly may have missed it, and will happily retract this if it isn’t the case, I can’t remember any emphasis in his columns on inequality and social justice issues . . . . though, as he responded earlier in this thread, he did support Occupy. That wins a lot of points in my book.

Anyway, I’d be shocked if GG called himself a libertarian socialist.

202

Plume 01.20.14 at 10:42 pm

Bruce Wilder 195,

I, too, write lengthy posts, all too subject to TLDNR.

But 195 seems especially lengthy. Can you boil it down for mobile users?

203

John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 10:46 pm

Plume 197,

1. Both Greenwald and Chomsky have repeatedly praised each other over the last few years.

2. Greenwald has been the keynote speaker at several socialist conventions over the last few years.

Why would a non-socialist speak at socialist conferences?

Now, Greenwald has never called himself a libertarian socialist, but I have looked closely at his career and, as a student and teacher of history, I feel very comfortable placing him in that category.

He is certainly left of center on almost all issues, including economic ones. To the left of most liberals and Democrats. Indeed, this is the basis of much of his critique of the Democratic Party. To reduce his politics to ‘civil libertarian’ only shows that you don’t pay much attention to his actual work.

Of course, you revealed this right away, at the top, when you (incorrectly) asserted that GG only attacks government and lays off business. He attacks both pretty much equally.

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John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 10:49 pm

Plume 197,

I bet the main reason why GG doesn’t call himself one is because, like most people, he’s not familiar with the term or its history. His political views are comparable to Orwell and Dwight Macdonald, two other libertarian socialists.

205

roger gathman 01.20.14 at 10:51 pm

LFC – I’d look at Steven Coll’s Ghost wars for the details – looming tower is good, but it covers a lot of ground. The statement no CIA aided war, no 9/11 is not airtight – as Mark Danner’s series on Rumsfeld shows, there would also have been no 9/11 if a single big player in the Bush government, from Bush himself on down through Rumsfeld and Rice, had cared in any way shape or form for the information with which they were being bombarded. They didn’t. Afterwards was the great denial – as if this was all an unimaginable event that our heroic leaders just didn’t have the tools to stop. It is a great act, but it is bogus.

206

Plume 01.20.14 at 10:54 pm

John Drinkwater 199,

I’m a socialist. Proudly so. And I read my share of GG when he was at Salon and even before that, when he had his own independent blog. Never did I get the impression that he was a socialist like me, and never did he refer to himself as a socialist.

And, sorry, but it’s patently false to suggest Greenwald attacks business as often or with as much passion as he does government. You’re waaay off about that.

But, since he’s responded here already, hopefully he comes back and settles this. Again, I would be totally and completely shocked if he called himself a socialist of any kind. Libertarian, ecosocialist (basically, my camp) or any other kind.

207

Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 10:54 pm

roger – afaicr ghost wars doesnt argue that Osama’s faction got support from the CIA, but rather the opposite (that they were marginal and most resources went to other groups)

208

John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 10:59 pm

Plume 202,

I’m also a socialist. But not sure how that settles anything.

You didn’t answer my question: why would a non-socialist accept invitations to be the keynote speaker at socialist conventions? Just as importantly, why would socialists invite a non-socialist to be their keynote speaker?

Even if GG himself avoids the term, there must be a significant overlap of positions, otherwise socialists wouldn’t be ‘confused’ into thinking he was one of us.

I consider him a social-democrat, very much like Chris Hayes and the editors of Jacobin. It is often very difficult to see the difference between moderate socialists of this kind and left-liberals, which is why Bernie Sanders is often confused as a left-liberal and not socialist.

209

Donald Johnson 01.20.14 at 11:00 pm

“If there is one common theme explaining why US politics is so screwed up, it is because many of the political actors elevate Party over principle”

Yep. And many ordinary people too, though you might be including them in the category of political actors.

210

Simon 01.20.14 at 11:02 pm

The real truth is that Glenn Greenwald knows nothing about domestic policy and economic issues and doesn’t pretend to as far as I’m aware/

211

Plume 01.20.14 at 11:05 pm

Also,

He’s associated with CATO, a decidedly anti-socialist organization. Can you explain that?

And, from his wiki page.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Greenwald

[I take anything published on wikipedia with several grains of salt, and don't endorse it in any way. But if these things are true, it, again, doesn't really sound like an advocate for socialism:]

Litigation attorney

Greenwald practiced law in the Litigation Department at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (1994–1995); in 1996 he co-founded his own litigation firm, called Greenwald Christoph & Holland (later renamed Greenwald Christoph PC), where he litigated cases concerning issues of U.S. constitutional law and civil rights.[7][25] One of his higher-profile cases was the pro bono representation of white supremacist Matthew F. Hale, in a series of First Amendment speech cases.[34] About that work, Greenwald told Rolling Stone, “to me, it’s a heroic attribute to be so committed to a principle that you apply it not when it’s easy…not when it supports your position, not when it protects people you like, but when it defends and protects people that you hate”.[35]

Later, according to Greenwald, “I decided voluntarily to wind down my practice in 2005 because I could, and because, after ten years, I was bored with litigating full-time and wanted to do other things which I thought were more engaging and could make more of an impact, including political writing.”[25]

Businessman

In 2002 Greenwald was offered the partnership in a consulting company, Master Notions Inc., by a friend, Jason Buchtel. The pornographic website, owned by Peter Haas, was a client of Master Notions. Greenwald and Buchtel agreed to help Haas’s site in return for 50% of the profits. A legal disagreement with Haas ensued over the profits from his site, and the establishment of a competing website by Buchtel and Greenwald. The case was resolved in 2004.[36]

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Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 11:05 pm

actually, roger – looking back over it he does argue (afaict)that it led indirectly to Al Qaeda’s rise. Although I can’t really remember the argument tbh. I do agree with LFC though that the initial argument above was a little overdetermined

213

Plume 01.20.14 at 11:10 pm

John 204,

I have no idea. But, remember, the march on Washington was organized primarily by we socialists, but included a good mix of political views as well. I’ve seen panel discussions in person and via C-Span where you had socialists, social democrats, liberals, moderates, centrists and conservatives. I don’t think that his mere presence on a panel is any sort of proof. I would really prefer to hear it from him.

How does he see himself?

True about Bernie Sanders, my favorite senator. He’s the only socialist in the Senate. Though if one listened to Palin, Limbaugh, Beck and company, there are at least 55.

;>)

214

LFC 01.20.14 at 11:14 pm

@ r. gathman 201

I’ll have to let you and ronan argue over Ghost Wars b.c I haven’t read it. I have notes on Looming Tower but I haven’t had time to check them — it does cover a lot of ground but it’s quite well researched. So this is sort of a cop-out response, sorry. I do agree on the other point that the Bush people were not focusing on the possible al-Qaeda activity closely. The immediate failure was the CIA-FBI breakdown in communication but clearly there were other failures going to the top of the Bush admin natl. security apparatus. Rice and Rumsfeld have both published memoirs, and so have Cheney and Bush himself I guess. I’ve glanced at Rumsfeld’s but I didn’t get to the 9/11 part. I assume none of them really takes responsibility for basic errors of (lack of) attention, etc.

215

John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 11:24 pm

Plume 209,

I’m talking about actual Socialist conventions, though. Not anti-war rallies. But conferences/conventions where they rent out facilities and invite only socialists, as far as I can tell. There are big banners behind the speakers which read “Socialist Conference 2010″ etc. These are simply not events where conservatives or even liberals would be offered keynote speaking roles.

Greenwald probably won’t comment, precisely because he doesn’t like to get mixed up in these fights, as they distract from his main concern at the moment, which is revealing NSA docs. But that doesn’t mean we as observers cannot look at the matter and come to our own conclusions.

His emphasis on individual rights and freedoms and disregard for party orthodoxy is what puts the ‘libertarian’ in his socialism.

216

Ronan(rf) 01.20.14 at 11:26 pm

..just to add and Ill leave it there, roger, I really wasnt trying to be a pedant, I just dont like these arguments (personally)about missed opportunities or easily resolvable, very specific causes for attacks(such as 9/11) .. as it lends too much credence to the risk aversion and strategic thinking (that these are events that can be prevented with more competent intelligence agencies etc) that drives the expansion of national security agencies. If you see what i mean

217

Jerry Vinokurov 01.20.14 at 11:28 pm

It must be some kind of Internet Law that any discussion even peripherally mentioning Glenn Greenwald must ultimately descend into detailed analyses of GG’s political positions and motivations. It’s like we’ve learned nothing at all from the last 500 times this went down!

218

Simon 01.20.14 at 11:38 pm

@ Plume. He is associated with Cato on issues that matter to libertarians and social democrats and liberals all. Who cares? That he defended a white supremacists is disturbing but also kind of admirable considering that he is Jewish. I’m afraid to be around those people.

219

Plume 01.20.14 at 11:40 pm

John 211,

Can you link to his participation in those socialist conferences? It’s really amazing that he never mentioned a single one of them in all the years I read him at Salon and his previous blog.

I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong on this issue. No problem with that. But I just don’t see it. I also don’t see him attracting such a loyal brigade of right-wing followers if he were a socialist. The Salon blog was filled with Ron Paul, Rothbard and Von Mises acolytes, etc. etc. They flocked to GG’s blog. Yes, lefties were there, too. But few of them were socialists.

Agreed that he is very good when it comes to a lack of party uber alles. He went after Bush and then Obama with equal fervor, and deservedly so. That speaks well of him.

Anyway, good to talk to a fellow socialist.

Gotta run.

220

SoU 01.20.14 at 11:46 pm

@214
“He is associated with Cato on issues that matter to libertarians and social democrats and liberals all. Who cares?”

i care. i personally find the CATO institute a greater threat to the well-being of the average american than i find the NSA/national security apparatus, which i absolutely deplore.

since when did ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ become a principle of the left? i mean, i understand the idea of ‘political strategy’ and all that, but don;t forget that your collaborators on the right are making similar calculations, evaluating the ends and means according to their own abhorrent political objectives. to think that we can use them, without a corresponding threat of us being used in the process, is imho very naive.

221

Ethan 01.20.14 at 11:50 pm

I’m always surprised to see the kind of people who talk against people like Manning and Snowden. Like there’s some terrible conspiracy theory on their part. XD Maybe what they revealed is too solid for the theorists, they need something that doesn’t make sense!

222

Straightwood 01.20.14 at 11:52 pm

It is difficult to maintain even a modest historical perspective on the blunders of the US intelligence apparatus, but the spectacle of a low-level technical employee walking away with most of the secret documents pertaining to spying is not their greatest embarrassment.

The cases of double agents Aldrich Ames (arrested 1994) and Robert Hanssen (arrested 2001) revealed that a pair of mediocre grifters operated for years peddling secrets from inside the elite US spy agencies. Add to this the decades long blunder of over-estimating Soviet military capabilities and utterly failing to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union and you have a picture of bloated and grossly incompetent bureaucracies incapable of reform.

The entire US national intelligence apparatus should be disestablished and rebuilt along rational lines. Edward Snowden is not the problem; he is just another diagnostic confirmation of a diseased bureaucracy. The criticisms of Glenn Greenwald for lack of ideological purity are ludicrous placed against the staggering incompetence of the NSA/CIA.

223

SoU 01.20.14 at 11:54 pm

Paul is a media darling of sorts. i can imagine the headlines now – “Paul and Senate allies curtail NSA excesses, voters generally approve”

so long as the american system operates according to current rules – where a representative is elected to vote on every legislative issue – political victories on issue X yield political/electoral capital that can be used to win elections and have a greater voice on issue Y.

i for one do not want him to have this victory, for i am certain that he/his movement would be able to channel that victory into greater support, and thus greater leverage for their highly objectionable social policies. we have other allies in this fight. Paul just seems to be a good candidate because of the aforementioned media infatuation.

lest anyone forget, the dude wants to be president someday. that scares me and if you share my convictions it should scare you too.

224

John Drinkwater 01.20.14 at 11:55 pm

SoU 216,

But he’s not associated with Cato. He did one report for them years ago, arguing for the legalization of drugs. That hardly amounts to some imaginary grand strategy of calculated political re-alignment on his part.

225

Bruce Wilder 01.20.14 at 11:58 pm

Plume @ 198 Can you boil [195] down?

Somewhat shorter, though I’m not confident a telegraphic version would make sense, because I cannot avail myself of so many phrases familiar to readers.

I wanted to draw notice to the implications of the absence of mass-membership organization in 21st century American politics. The advent of neoliberalism (Charles Peterson – Washington Monthly version) was basically liberalism letting go of responsibility for organizing & leading mass movements and mass organization. The distaste for the working class, for trade unions, for poor whites in the South, for ethnic identities, for political machines won out, as social affiliation declined generally in American society. We bowl alone and we vote alone.

There are implications for the politics of civil liberties and the pressure someone like Glenn Greenwald, committed to civil liberties, feels as he seeks resources and allies, and the adaptations he makes.

One implication is that liberalism (or a socialism that eschews mass membership organization, for that matter) doesn’t have much of a claim on power, independent of Money, and elections become a very weak check on elites. If liberals don’t seek mass support, conservatives don’t, either — the latter can astro-turf what little they need.

The other side of this equation is that organizing mass support entails making political appeals to people, who have the political attitudes of authoritarian followers (a category of political psychology). Authoritarian followers, though naturally egalitarian in some ways, are also big fans of expedience and basically cannot understand the kind of procedural principles Greenwald champions. Liberal leadership to get mass support for civil liberties can be tricky to accomplish, though it has been done in a variety of ways. Only because today is the day, I note Martin Luther King’s nonviolence was particularly well-designed to get support from authoritarian followers.

Some of the speculation about Glenn Greenwald’s political character or commitments beyond civil liberties issues — and more broadly, about what the liberal critique or position is or would be on the NSA, etc — is misattributing to personal discretion, what is really a by-product of the abdication by liberals of mass-membership organization.

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Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 12:03 am

In using the term, authoritarian follower, I’m referencing the work of the Canadian psychologist, Bob Altemeyer on conceptualizing the political psychology and attitudes of what he called, “right-wing authoritarian followers”, where “right-wing” is a highly misleading technical term.

227

SoU 01.21.14 at 12:10 am

“The criticisms of Glenn Greenwald for lack of ideological purity are ludicrous placed against the staggering incompetence of the NSA/CIA.”

those criticisms are not mutually exclusive. one can ask Glenn to stop hamming around with people blowing ‘welfare is slavery’ dog whistles while still being opposed to the NSA.

i recognize that, for example, the KKK has the right to a fair hearing in court. that does not mean that if one of my good friends took up their case that i would be patting them on the back for it! if no one among the legal profession decided to take up their case, that would be a clear message from civil society that their views are unconscionable and would not impinge upon their rights to a fair trial.

just because someone is correct in the abstract about X or Y does not mean you should lend your assistance to them, nor does it insulate you from criticism for doing so. they will mind their p’s and q’s during the alliance, playing up the points of agreement, and when the fight is over they will return to their true agenda.

the dream of the rightist libertarians in america is a laissez-faire market run by the oligarchic forces of private power. whatever freedoms and liberties they want to take back from the state they are ready and willing to cede to your economic overlords.

228

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 12:11 am

Straightwood 217

The whole point of “classification” as it was originally devised was to compartmentalize critical technical knowledge, as a way of protecting secrets. Obviously, there’s very little compartmentalization going on, or low-level grunts like Manning or Snowden couldn’t download the whole shebang onto a thumbdrive. As Peter T observed, this is just another symptom of top management having absolutely no idea how anything works.

And, professional pundits, like Wilentz, or outlets like TNR, not being able to wrap their tiny minds around it is just another aspect of the same devolution.

229

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 12:15 am

” As Peter T observed, this is just another symptom of top management having absolutely no idea how anything works.”

something along the lines of this ?

http://aeon.co/magazine/world-views/is-technology-making-the-world-too-complex/

230

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 12:16 am

SoU @ 222

Magna Carta was written for the Barons. Bush, Jr. jettisoning that is probably something the oligarchs could be persuaded to undo. You do what you can do. ;-)

231

SoU 01.21.14 at 12:18 am

@219
” That hardly amounts to some imaginary grand strategy of calculated political re-alignment on his part.”

im not charging him with this.
i am defending my position that it is perfectly reasonable to criticize him for working with CATO given their larger project and role in american political life, which is quite pernicious (they are a major player in the dynamics Bruce described upthread).
i am reacting to those who want to wash all these associations away with ‘you can’t expect ideological purity!’ and noting that, yes, it is reasonable for us to expect him to not work with CATO if he considers himself a leftist, and no, this does not amount to a demand of ideological purity from him.
i believe these things even if he never worked with CATO at all. im not even really focused on Glenn’s work anymore, as i think this has become an issue of leftist political strategy moreso than ‘what are GG’s motivations’ or whatever

232

DaveL 01.21.14 at 12:20 am

At this point in the unfolding saga, it matters not a whit what the motiviation for Snowden (et al.) to do what they did. Wilentz seems to believe they were playing for the wrong team, and that this discredits the results. No. The results (NSA overreach, described in their own briefings, is creating the conditions under which a totalitarian system could be erected) are important enough that red/blue, left-right, Obama-hater/Obama-fan fades into the background.

I’m not surprised that the National Security State is going after them with all guns firing, but Sean Wilentz? Really? Did he at least get Wales?

233

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 12:29 am

SoU 226,

I would say that you are “not even wrong” because you assume a false premise: that is, that GG has ever “worked with” Cato. When confronted about this, he said he has never worked with or for them. He wrote I believe one article calling for drug legalization, which he wrote entirely on his own.

So my objection to your argument is not that I think you’re conducting an ideological purity test but more simply that you’re assuming something from the outset that isn’t true.

234

roy belmont 01.21.14 at 12:30 am

SoU 222 at 12:10 am-
if no one among the legal profession decided to take up their case, that would be a clear message from civil society…
That no one among the legal profession was brave enough to go against the prevailing…
-
That all the lawyers in town were too scared for their lives and the lives of their loved ones to risk being exposed to the…
-
That nowhere in the land was there anyone in the legal profession who still believed in the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.

235

SoU 01.21.14 at 12:49 am

roy -
im thinking of issues of free speech and association, not accusations of criminal wrongdoing, which are of another order entirely

236

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 12:51 am

@220

On target and close to what Christopher Lasch was saying in “Revolt of the Elites.” It also explains the sharp class distinction between Ellsberg and Manning/Snowden. Alienation from the masses has made yuppie liberals politically impotent and ideologically confused. However, I believe the pending immiseration of America’s middle class will lead to an explosive anti-plutocratic reaction, of which Occupy was just a faint precursor.

237

SoU 01.21.14 at 12:53 am

John at 228 -
i was trusting someone upthread who said that he had worked on that drug project with CATO. but regardless you are missing my point. substitute Rand Paul for CATO.

also
http://www.cato.org/publications/white-paper/drug-decriminalization-portugal-lessons-creating-fair-successful-drug-policies

238

SoU 01.21.14 at 12:54 am

Bruce @225
sorry but i am not sure i follow ?

239

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 12:59 am

@Bruce Wilder,

Does distinguishing “first-order” from “second-order” highlight or obscure the particular state of a particular system? Where is the constitutional order that assigns “first-order” and “second-order” and how does it emerge?

I only used that terminology because that’s how it was described in the seminar, and I think it’s a good description of what’s going on in the heads of those liberals and libertarians who cooperate on these issues–they take the positions they do not to get the ball down the field, but to keep the competitive game itself going. Any distinctions here aren’t universally agreed upon, of course. Supporters of campaign finance reform would call their cause second-order, but no libertarian would ever sign on.

I largely agree with most of what you write. To some extent, we’re all “authoritarians”–we all delegate some of our thinking to others. I haven’t read very many of the congressional bills that I have an opinion on–I trust other people who’s job it is to know what’s in the bills. And this is a huge blind spot for liberalism, if not for human cognition in general–interpersonal trust is necessary to accomplish anything, but how can we build institutions that facilitate reliable trust–not just to trick people into trusting each other, but to do so in a way that brings everyone closer to the truth?

I mean, we could just resort to tricking people, but I think we’d be handily outgunned. They have more organization, more resources, and a more homogenous political base.

240

SusanC 01.21.14 at 1:12 am

@David Golumbia.

I agree that it’s not just about government intelligence agencies, but also corporations.

It might be useful to compare the British Telecom “Phorm” scandal, where — as far as we know — the interception was done for purely commercial reasons, with no prompting from the government. In that case, there were strong calls for existing wiretap/fraud laws to be enforced — basically, that people in BT’s management should go to prison for it.

There’s a substantial overlap between the people who were complaining about Phorm and the people who are complaining about the NSA spying as revealed by Snowden. If — purely hypothetically — the current NSA scandal had been done by a commercial company acting alone, e.g. if RSA Data Security Inc. had infiltrated the NIST standards committee, got a flawed algorithm into the standard, implemented it in their product, and then used the vulnerability to break into their customers’ computer systems — then I expect we would now be hearing strong calls for their management to be convicted of a long list of criminal charges. But it would appear that many of the parts of this that would have been seriously criminal if a corporation had done them, were instead done by government employees, with possibly some kind of judicial authorization. Which leads us to some combination of wanting a criminal investigation of the government employees involved, or raising it to a political (rather than criminal) matter if the legislature and judiciary had made it legal. i.e. if this was legal, congress should not have passed the laws that made it legal, and “vote the bums out” presents itself as the remedy.

241

Sebastian H 01.21.14 at 1:34 am

First, THE major mass membership organizations in the modern US are churches–a great many of the more successful ones are quite right wing. That cuts about 15 different directions in the argument, but it isn’t a point that can just be ignored.

“He is associated with Cato on issues that matter to libertarians and social democrats and liberals all. Who cares?”

i care. i personally find the CATO institute a greater threat to the well-being of the average american than i find the NSA/national security apparatus, which i absolutely deplore.

since when did ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ become a principle of the left? i mean, i understand the idea of ‘political strategy’ and all that, but don;t forget that your collaborators on the right are making similar calculations, evaluating the ends and means according to their own abhorrent political objectives.

This is almost a perfect distillation of what I mean by the problem in US politics being the political actors elevating Party over principle.

CATO isn’t the equivalent of the NAZI party. Seriously. And more dangerous than the NSA? Really???? Their work on police brutality and police oriented civil rights problems in general, and hiring and promoting Radley Balko in particular has probably done more for the progress of social justice than anything you PLUS me PLUS your 5 closest socialist friends will ever do in our entire lifetimes. They have lots of things on lots of different agendas, many of which you would likely agree with and many of which you clearly disagree with. They aren’t the devil, and you aren’t some hyper-pure Catholic who feels the need to stay away from Jews because he thinks they are dirty or whatever. You’re talking like a Christian fundamentalist and it is just silly.

There people who care about the overreach of the pants-wetting security state are found all across the spectrum, and frankly aren’t a majority of any major party. Frankly their are plenty of Democrats who are just as much pants-wetters as most Republicans. And contrary to belief on blog comments, neither ‘real’ socialists nor ‘real’ libertarians actually have very many voters even if they could be convinced to not try to eat each other alive.

So if you care about curbing the pants-wetting security state, you are going to have to take your allies where you can find them. (Hint, you won’t find them among top Democrats). Fortunately it turns out that you can actually work together with people that you don’t totally agree with on everything if the issue is important enough. Now if Rand Paul insists that you vote to end unemployment benefits in order to get his vote about the security state, you should tell him to fuck himself. But you haven’t provided the slightest hint in that direction. You rely on third order effects as if he was going to have trouble getting elected in Kentucky.

242

SoU 01.21.14 at 2:00 am

@236
1) you have no idea who i am, nor what i have done, am doing, or will do. don’t pretend you do, and don’t attack my credibility or dedication to these issues without any knowledge of what you are talking. its very bad form and frankly i find it insulting.

2) the CATO institute is a vehicle and transmission belt for wealthy oligarchs to influence the political process. they might be talking about police brutality, but if you think that they are in some way working toward social justice broadly as the average leftist understands that term then i think you have been duped. its not that they are nazis or the devil, but instead that the organization itself is an ongoing corruption of our political dialogue and Glenn speaking alongside them lends them credibility which i believe any progressive would be uncomfortable with. did MLK hold back on his criticisms of LBJ regarding Vietnam because of the Great Society and Civil Rights work the latter did? no – no he did not.

3) your last paragraph does nothing to address the points i made above about the transferrability of political capital in today’s media dominated political environment. he is the leader of a national political movement, and his successes can translate into downstream successes for his ideological allies when he goes out and whips up support for their campaigns. Paul has a long term political vision – he is a political force and representative of a movement that very well could be a significant force in american politics. letting him take the lead on this issue, instead of making it clear that proper leftists oppose the national security state, is playing into his long term political vision which DOES entail massive curtailments of the welfare state, labor policy, racial progress, and a variety of other hard one achievements of the left. CATO is similar in that they are an advocacy organization with a broad reaching political program.

4) support is fungible, cross apply everything Bruce and others were saying regarding the need for informational mediators/trust and the authoritarian elements of political followings in defense of this position.

243

SoU 01.21.14 at 2:10 am

also @236:

“if Rand Paul insists that you vote to end unemployment benefits in order to get his vote about the security state, you should tell him to fuck himself. But you haven’t provided the slightest hint in that direction.”

these sorts of quid pro quos are far more common than your comment here makes them seem – but they all occur in the genteel mahogany rooms behind closed doors. you don’t know what sort of sacrifices will have to be made to win and/or keep the Paulite coalition, and i am not interested in finding out.
i don’t want to see leftist tie themselves to the Paul machine, because if he should threaten to jump ship, the leftist would fall with him.
and yes, i do believe that he and his allies would resort to such hostage taking.

244

Sebastian H 01.21.14 at 2:19 am

O

K

245

Simon 01.21.14 at 2:21 am

@ SoU. I think you’re greatly overestimating the appeal of Paul. He’s getting slammed in opinion polls agains the geriatric Hilary Clinton. He has a small group of commited cadres just like his Dad.

246

Nine 01.21.14 at 2:28 am

Sebastian H@236 – “Their work on police brutality and police oriented civil rights problems in general, and hiring and promoting Radley Balko in particular has probably done more for the progress of social justice than” blah blah blah

This line of horseshit – i’ve seen it used before, it seems to be a trope of internet ideological argumentation – reminds me of the “cute but not special” exchange in “Boyz n the hood”. It’s as if there were no civic organisations attending to these issues from the left side of the spectrum from well before – like decades before – CATO & Balko came along.

247

SoU 01.21.14 at 2:34 am

@240 – think longer term. the battle against the national security state won’t be resolved in a fortnight. its been brewing since the early Cold War, maybe sooner. other than the Church committee, we have just recently been able to chip away at some of its massive edifice.

Paul is about 50 years old, and if his father is any indication he will work to remain a political figure late into his life. i expect to see him for the next 30 years. with the accompanying medical advances, who knows, maybe more.
H. Clinton’s political life will be over within about a decade, after which she will be retired. Paul will outlast Clinton, ceritus paribus.

Paul’s appeal is narrow now, but it is overwhelmingly concentrated within the youth – if he can retain his current followers as well as continue to appeal to the ranks of new voters, he will have a political movement on his hand. additionally, he has outsized support for his platform from both the media on the one hand and the astroturfing plutocrats on the other.

obviously these things are conditional on a lot of factors. but what i have been saying ad nauseum here is that this debate over the NSA is precisely one of these factors – if he gets to win the symbolic battle for who is considered ‘leading the charge’ on this then any victories in the battle against the national security state will be a win in his column. i am trying to incite some concern among my fellow lefties here in order to preclude that possibility.

248

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 2:43 am

. . . we could just resort to tricking people, but I think we’d be handily outgunned. They have more organization, more resources, and a more homogenous political base.

I think we are already heavily outgunned, but I don’t think the plutocracy can ever claim an homogenous political base, short of instituting an hereditary House of Lords. The Really Rich™ could never win an election by themselves — they are never numerous enough. So, they always have to tack on other groups, with which they have little enough in common; in short, they have to trick some people, and the tricks can be costly.

From a purely partisan viewpoint of Rs v Ds, mobilizing the masses is likely to set off a costly arms race, with significant risks, and so, is something to be avoided. From a Left ideological standpoint, though there are significant risks, the arms race would be desirable, because it would shift both Parties toward greater responsiveness to the masses.

At the risk of triggering the dread Obama derangement syndrome, I would point out that Obama generally tries pretty hard to have the option of mass support, while also avoiding having to mobilize that latent mass support, and in the last election, his very competent machinery managed a remarkably small margin of victory. If you followed Nate Silver’s commentary, you know that, though the margin was small — tiny, even, by historical standards — it was so rock-stable as to be close to risk-free, and very competently managed from day-to-day. The first debate performance was one of the few slips, and the campaign’s response in correction was swift and sure. Up against the poster-child for Vampire Capitalism — surely, the most-target rich environment nominated by the Republican Party since Herbert Hoover in 1932 — Obama avoided having to use much populist rhetoric or trot out populist policy proposals. In the end, the President was able to actually reduce the increase in the minimum wage he called for in his SoU in 2013 compared to 2009 — a nice symbolic marker of his political accomplishment.

Obama had potential mass support and the basic skeletal campaign machinery to mobilize it, but it remained a latent threat to plutocratic backers, who might dream of actually electing a pure plutocrat like Romney. Obama never had to unleash either rhetoric or policy options of a populist or seriously reformist nature, for which his more politically savvy plutocratic backers are no doubt grateful.

In early 20th century politics, everyone was mobilized in political competition. That’s what totalitarianism was — an escalation of competing mass membership movements, orchestrated through novel tools of of mass communication used for mass propaganda. Now, the game is to demoralize and demobilize everyone — an inverted totalitarianism (see Wolin) of political passivity and hopelessness, also orchestrated by tools of mass communication used for mass propaganda.

249

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 2:57 am

@243

The current political mix is dangerously unstable, because the income inequality trend is unsustainable. When enough bright young middle class ex-professionals and Iraq vets are impoverished, the car bombs are going to start going off. Reform will come from plutocrats afraid for their lives, not from a great awakening to social justice.

250

Simon 01.21.14 at 3:19 am

Paul’s popularity is not concentrated within the youth except for Conor Friedersdorf. It is concentrated within far right tea partiers. Wyden and other dems can pick up the movement easily without the anti-abortion, anti-environment, anti-state social conservative baggage in all forms baggage that Paul has,

251

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 3:24 am

Historically, major revolutions have usually been occasioned more by some combination of elite overreach and institutional collapse than by rebellion. I would think it a pretty good bet that political violence in the U.S. will rise steadily and dramatically over the next half-dozen years — we are due for a cycle of violence and economic circumstances surely favor it. It won’t be organized or effective in policy terms, though, against a surveillance state and the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The fear will just make the mass of people more fearful, authoritarian and passive.

As long as so-called progressives stick to the bloodless, faultless rhetoric of “the income inequality trend is unsustainable” I think it also a very safe bet that reform won’t come from the left, at least not that left.

The very large share of income going to Capital and C-suite corporate management reflects a combination of massive disinvestment, public and private, as well as predation. Bernanke and Obama did a remarkably good job of preservationist policy, papering over the cracks in the foundation with a flood of liquidity, but that flood of liquidity, itself, requires for its funding, galloping disinvestment and predation. It’s not something, which can continue indefinitely, I guess, but it evidently presages how the plutocracy intends to adapt to the shrinking resource base (aka peak oil, climate change, ecological collapse): reduce global resource consumption pressure by making more people very poor.

I think the U.S. will end the decade rather surprised by how much poorer the country is — it will be dramatic, with falling life expectancy and many other indicators of 3rd world conditions spreading — but quite possibly still lacking the political will to do anything about it. Beyond that, I don’t know — a new generation will be in charge and the global political system may be dramatically different, as well — undermining the plutocracy’s faith that it can just float above the devastation as a globalized elite.

252

Peter T 01.21.14 at 3:46 am

Ronan @ 224: “just another symptom of top management having absolutely no idea how anything works.”

Not really like the link, interesting as it is. That makes it a technical problem, one of the systems being too complex. It is, I think, more a social one. Complexity beyond the grasp of any single mind has been with us a long time. If you think about it, a Roman consul, for example, could hardly hope to be across the myriad technologies, modes of organisation, local economies etc that all were vital components of the social machine he could direct. But it was organised in such a way that information about the parts could be sent upwards, synthesised and balanced against competing resources and interests, well enough (most of the time) to avoid serious mistakes and keep the whole lurching onwards.

What we increasingly have is an elite which is not interested in how the machine works; in fact one whose interests themselves lie not with making it work better, but in cannibalising the parts. As one example, if they actually understood the scientists, they would be moving heaven and earth to avert climate change. For, after all, they live here too. Their failure is not a measure of their self-interest; it’s a measure of their disconnection and ignorance.

What the NSA did is not sensible intelligence – it’s intelligence as practiced by blinkered middle managers devoid of serious oversight.

253

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 3:58 am

@247

There is something far worse than simple ignorance moving the plutocracy toward disaster. Many of them view the impending contraction of the population resulting from resource depletion and ecological stress as a splendid adventure that will confirm their superiority. For them, watching others lose is part of the fun of winning.

254

SoU 01.21.14 at 4:32 am

@246 – “Historically, major revolutions have usually been occasioned more by some combination of elite overreach and institutional collapse than by rebellion. I would think it a pretty good bet that political violence in the U.S. will rise steadily and dramatically over the next half-dozen years”

and this is why we have seen the massive explosion in the reach and subsidy for the carceral state in the recent past.
im just not sure i see the violence on the horizon – at least not of the political kind. general anti-social violence (which of course generally has political economic roots but shhhh the baby is sleeping!) on the rise? yeah, i expect a lot of that. but when it comes to people at barricades? how does such a movement get off the ground in the present context of NSA surveillance and a militarized police force?
in my opinion – the best option is economic action: which is disruptive like outright violence, but not as easily warped into ‘terrorism’ (etc) by the media & police outfits.

@ Simon 245
i know far too many well-educated, otherwise left-wing types who have sympathies for Rand Paul to be as optimistic about this as you, but i guess we shall see

255

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 4:34 am

SoU 232,

I’m not sure what your point is anymore. Greenwald has never worked with or for the Pauls, either?

He has never called for any sort of alliance with Cato. He wrote an independent report for them on drug legalization – I don’t see how or why there’s anything wrong with this. He has never endorsed Cato or argued the libertarian left should be working with them or whatever. Not sure what your problem is.

256

bob mcmanus 01.21.14 at 4:41 am

The huge culling of the Federal Work Force and Obama’s internal “War on Leakers” (watch for unusual behavior in your co-workers and report such to your superiors…Jeez) indicates to me that Power is trying to rule its internal bureaucracy by fear as they are trying to control the labor force by fear. This is pretty desperate and I am not sure why they think it work.

What will happen is indicated by the recent scandal about the officers in charge of the missiles.

The surveillance and control state for all its technology, still needs a dedicated, alert, and enthusiastic workforce. What we are going to get pretty quickly is not a flood of leakers or internal saboteurs but inside those caverns of recording machines and video screens a security workforce that is watching the Superbowl instead of doing their jobs.
The apparatchiks will cease to give a damn.

And that is when and how a State collapses.

257

Plume 01.21.14 at 4:52 am

Bruce Wilder,

Have read some of your thoughts here and it fits a certain pattern I’ve grown used to. Lefties, who still support the capitalist system, make a critique of the plutocracy, describe the attendant atrocities and outrages, the massive inequalities and the ecological disasters, the concentration and abuses of power, which all point to only one conclusion:

We have to get rid of capitalism.

But when someone like me actually takes that critique to its logical conclusion, and suggests a way out and a replacement, those same people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to trash alternatives.

In short, your thoughts lead the reader to conclude you’re one of us, an anticapitalist. But you stop short of that and actually seem to be repulsed by the idea.

I used to be in that trap. The light finally came on, and I reasoned my way out of it. Leave the shadows and dance in the light, Mr Wilder!!

258

SoU 01.21.14 at 4:56 am

John

GG has written papers for CATO, spoken at their events, and been cited in the press as a scholar from their organization. i mean, sure, he doesn’t run the outfit, but when they are hosting a paper with his name on it or invite him to speak at one of their conferences i don’t think its a stretch to say that they were cooperating? are you seriously going to be so obtuse about this?
wrt the Pauls – he has a number of times defended Rand Paul in print and made clear he sees a political alliance with Paul as advantageous and desirable for people who have sympathies to his cause.

but as i’ve told you already, im not really talking about GG here – he is a private citizen who is free to do whatever he wants and ally with whomever he will. i still read his work and value his insight and will probably continue to do so for a long time. the only reason he is relevant here is that he is a political actor who is clearing a lot of ground on these issues, and i was using his particular advocacy as a jumping off point for my own ideas on the subject.

my point is that i do not think it is strategic or proper for leftists hoping to challenge the national security state to ally with Paul, CATO, or similar political actors. i received a lot of pushback for those arguments, so i defended them. you seem to be caught up with what i think GG did or didn’t do, and i promise John, i really don’t care.

259

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 5:09 am

SoU,

I think it’s important to distinguish between writing an article for Cato and “allying with” them. Likewise, between pointing out what one likes about Paul versus “allying with” or endorsing Paul. You seem to think these are distinctions without a difference.

I have no problem with how GG has contributed his own thoughts/research to Cato or when he points out how Paul is better than Clinton on certain issues, etc. These aren’t tantamount to endorsements; he’s just very opinionated and likes to get his ideas out there.

260

Plume 01.21.14 at 5:14 am

Found a response from GG reprinted on the Daily Kos. He tackles some of the things said about him which he says are patently untrue. It’s very long, but he goes into detail to make his case. I’m convinced by most but not all of it.

http://mcaf.ee/whymn

I shortened the URL using the McAfee site.

Some of it sounds overly sensitive to me, and has the ring of martyrdom, which I noticed on his blog as well. GG has thin skin in general, which is not a good thing to have when you’re often the one accusing others of this or that atrocity. And in his telling that he had little to do with CATO, other than one article and one speech, he seems to go out of his way to praise them, with some very questionable assessments of their awesomeness.

And I noticed another thing. He is correct to be upset when someone pushes lies about him or makes inferences based upon his past associations, or tries to pigeon hole him and put him in some box with this or that label. He is right to invoke the specter of McCarthy. But he has a history of doing the same with his critics, almost invariably labeling them as Obama apologists, or when the moment is more heated, something to the effect of Obamabots.

Basically, he needs to practice what he’s preaching.

When all is said and done, I’m glad he’s out there, writing what he writes. And I’m very glad he helped get Snowden’s message out there, and for all the work he’s done on the national security state.

261

SoU 01.21.14 at 5:52 am

John @254
my concern re: GG’s relation to CATO is that he is generally laudatory, and has worked with them in the past. being who he is in this debate at the moment, i think that his sanction, whether explicit or made in passing, confers undue legitimacy on that organization which i think is a scourge on american politics. and then i got a little incensed when the suggestion was made up thread that CATO was somehow a social justice organization or something, which im still somewhat reeling from.

likewise wrt to Paul – he has on a number of occasions defended Rand and spoken about him as if they were championing the same cause – which i find to be very problematic but it is something that a lot of GG’s readership is VERY eager about. when i talk about the relation between GG and Paulism, it is as a fairly regular reader of GG’s work and also as someone who sees the comments/followers at his page(s), which tend to be very pro-Paul. maybe i am reading into this, maybe not – but i am confident that if GG treated Paul(ism) in his writings the way that i would expect a proper leftist to treat Paul(ism) that many of these Paul-follower types would no longer find him so appealing and frequent his site. But again – a lot of my ire with regard to Paul came after a suggestion upthread that leftists should not be criticizing Paul because there are not any influential democrats challenging the national security state, which i thought was ridiculous and responded with attendant gusto.

262

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:01 am

John Drinkwater 253,

To me, neither party is worth a damn, though I do think the Dems are better on pretty much every issue. I like the Democratic constituency more as well. Unfortunately, the Dems seem to ignore them, ignore their base, whereas the Republicans tend to bow to the wishes of theirs.

This has the unsavory effect of two parties governing from the right, with one more extreme than the other. To play Woody Allen for a moment, I also see the Dems as rather neurotic, and the Republicans as psychotic. Neither is optimal but neurotics are less destructive.

I voted for Jill Stein this last go round.

263

Francisco George (@paco229) 01.21.14 at 6:07 am

What Sean Wilentz, and many others, does not understand is tat there is a total shift in political activism.

People from differents backgrounds regroup briefly to defend one ideal and once defended dismantle as quick as they group,

That is how the #Anonymous collective work and in some way PIRATE parties work.

This is easily understood if you read “SwarmWise” the book of Rick Falkvinge(Founder of the first PIRATE party in Sweden) http://falkvinge.net/2013/02/14/swarmwise-the-tactical-manual-to-changing-the-world-chapter-one/

Political thoughts and activism is no longer monolitic, as Greenwald, Snowden and Assange grouped together to fight NSA surveillance they could very well be adversaries on a subject as HealthCare for example.

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Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 6:12 am

bob mcmanus: The apparatchiks will cease to give a damn. . . . And that is when and how a State collapses.

You mean like Secret Service agents in the President’s detail hiring hookers in a foreign capital and having a party? It seems like someone would notice the fundamental lack of respect or pride. But, as Peter T says, they just don’t seem to care about understanding how it all works, in a social sense. And, the President’s life may depend on it, but, hey, why worry?

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John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:14 am

SoU,

I still think you need to be more careful in how you assess GG’s relationship – or lack their of, I would argue – with Cato. For example, you say he’s been ‘generally laudatory’ of them. But where? In fact, where has he ever praised or said any nice words about them? If he hasn’t, then it changes the whole dynamic of what you’re talking about, I think. He’s not ‘conferring undue legitimacy’ on them.

On the other hand, he *has repeatedly praised Noam Chomsky and was a featured speaker at several Socialist conferences over the last few years. Doesn’t this help cancel out whatever minor crimes he may have committed in flirting with Cato and Paul?

Whatever GG says about Paul, btw, I’m convinced he’s speaking entirely of his own beliefs. He no longer has to worry about placating his base of supporters — not that I think he ever did.

It’s unclear to me how a ‘proper leftist’ should address Paul, who has a certain appeal because ‘the establishment’ hates him. He’s unpredictable, and he’s better than the Democrats on some issues. Also, if you believe his economic policies would be a disaster (as I do, assuming they were ever implemented), then you could argue he could potentially bring capitalism down, despite his intentions of doing anything but. Some of us frankly wouldn’t mind rolling the dice to see what happens.

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Anarcissie 01.21.14 at 6:22 am

SoU 01.21.14 at 5:52 am @ 255:
‘… But again – a lot of my ire with regard to Paul came after a suggestion upthread that leftists should not be criticizing Paul because there are not any influential democrats challenging the national security state…’

I read over the discussion lightly and did not see anyone here suggest that leftists should not be criticizing Paul (either one). Could you point it out?

267

Sebastian H 01.21.14 at 6:25 am

“my concern re: GG’s relation to CATO is that he is generally laudatory, and has worked with them in the past. being who he is in this debate at the moment, i think that his sanction, whether explicit or made in passing, confers undue legitimacy on that organization which i think is a scourge on american politics.”

What are the top two leftie organizations which you would claim are as good as CATO on condemning the security state?

I mean other than Wikileaks, which you don’t seem to approve of much…

268

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:30 am

“What are the top two leftie organizations which you would claim are as good as CATO on condemning the security state?”

The ACLU comes to mind. But why do they have to be organizations? Conservatives and liberals are much better at forming organizations or think tanks like Cato and Brookings, because they have wealthy corporate backers. Lefties on the other hand are lone voices. So, lefties who have condemned the security state include, well, all of us. And we’re better at it than Cato, I would argue.

In terms of ‘visible’ leftie voices, of course you have Greenwald and also Assange – sort of institutions in themselves. But also Chris Hedges, another lone organization. These individual forces it seems to me are just as influential as Cato, and probably more so.

269

SoU 01.21.14 at 6:40 am

@260
specifically 172 but iirc there was some pushback elsewhere

i think it is also relevant to note again that from what i can tell Snowden is a fairly big Paul supporter – so this is hardly some idiosyncratic thing but instead, imho, a lurking fissure within this debate between leftist and rightist libertarians

John @259
re: CATO – we are just going to have to leave this one by the roadside, i think. i can’t recall any specific instances but again i’ve read him for like 6 years running by now so its a long time to search through and just dont have the patience to do search.

and again John – i’m not accusing him of ‘crimes’ and i don’t appreciate you trying to construe my words as such.

finally – i don’t find your last line calling for support of Paul from some sort of accelerationist orthodox Marxism to be at all convincing, or a responsible way of thinking about the economy. if Paul were to precipitate any sort of economic disaster, all evidence indicates that it will play out similar to the last one: resulting in massive job losses among the working classes and youth, create a decade long drag on wage growth among the bottom 3 or 4 quintiles, and destroy about 1/3 to 1/2 of the accumulated wealth and savings of the remaining middle class. all this while the social safety net is rapidly curtailed. even if that somehow ‘ended capitalism’ or whatever it would do so amid tumult and widespread deprivation, and as we learned in the 20th century, that is not the proper foundation for a progressive political-economic future

270

SoU 01.21.14 at 6:43 am

“What are the top two leftie organizations which you would claim are as good as CATO on condemning the security state?”

Center for American Progress and the international wing at CEPR. John @ 262 is also on point with regard to the corporatist bent to many think tanks due to their funding needs and how this really keeps a lid on issues like this.

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Plume 01.21.14 at 7:05 am

John Drinkwater 261,

The ACLU comes to mind. But why do they have to be organizations? Conservatives and liberals are much better at forming organizations or think tanks like Cato and Brookings, because they have wealthy corporate backers. Lefties on the other hand are lone voices. So, lefties who have condemned the security state include, well, all of us. And we’re better at it than Cato, I would argue.

In terms of ‘visible’ leftie voices, of course you have Greenwald and also Assange – sort of institutions in themselves. But also Chris Hedges, another lone organization. These individual forces it seems to me are just as influential as Cato, and probably more so.

Very well said. You could add the hundreds of books and essays written by famous (and infamous) leftists against imperialism and surveillance and government abuse of power in general. etc. Again, leftists created those movements. Not righties. Righties were generally too busy loving “law and order” and “hard power,” along with the reactionary Church. It was the left that created the antiwar movement and going back much further in time, the very concept of rebellion against the oppressive state. The right was the state.

Contemporary liberals seem to forget all of that, afraid, apparently, to broaden their horizons and read Marx and his peers, ancestors and descendents.

http://monthlyreview.org/
is an excellent source for leftist critique of imperialism and war.

http://www.haymarketbooks.org/
is an excellent source for leftist writings on the subject, as is . . .

http://www.versobooks.com/
Verso books.

Spread your wings, liberals!!

272

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 7:35 am

Plume @ 251 Lefties, who still support the capitalist system, make a critique of the plutocracy, . . . But when someone like me actually takes that critique to its logical conclusion, and suggests a way out and a replacement, those same people spend an inordinate amount of time trying to trash alternatives. In short, your thoughts lead the reader to conclude you’re one of us, an anticapitalist. But you stop short of that and actually seem to be repulsed by the idea.

Reifying the political economy as “capitalism” and talking flippantly about “replacements” is not a rhetorical move, or analytic strategy I respect.

I don’t think “capitalism” is a particular, distinct and definite thing, which can be replaced wholesale. It is not, imho, an appropriate or productive way to think about the institutional problems of political economy, or their attendant difficulties.

I would not be as flippant as you are, for example, about the problems of holding an elite accountable. It doesn’t seem to me that it is possible to have a highly organized society without hierarchy, or hierarchy without an elite, so we are stuck trying to find ways, however imperfect, of keeping elites in check. You can have a revolution, sure, but there’s a real risk of “new boss, same as the old boss”. It is an age-old problem of who will guard the guardians. Liberalism has some suggestions, in a political separation of powers, popular elections, legitimate political opposition and rotation in office, etc. I think anarchists have some useful suggestions, too, in a diversity of public and private economic organization — we ought to have non-profits and cooperatives and publicly sponsored firms, as well as private, for-profits in a mixed ecology. It is not creative solutions I object to; it is what I regard as a failure to appreciate the very real difficulties and inherent constraints. And, asserting without foundation in experience that we can simply do without elites in the glorious future as you imagine it, is not providing an alternative; it is blowing smoke.

Another thing I don’t understand is millennial-ism: expecting the end of history, or that a crisis of capitalism is going to end magically in a glorious advent of a new era. The institutions of political economy are as organic as our bodies — they grow, develop, age and die, and are replaced in the cycle of reproduction as surely as our individual bodies.

I’m sometimes accused on these comment threads of nostalgia for the New Deal, and it is true I admire those institutions and the political problem-solving they represented, and I regret the Reaganite project of dismantling the New Deal. But, the larger context of my critique is a recognition that the New Deal institutions, after a good long run, are past their sell-by date. Predictably, they have aged past their useful lives, and must be reproduced, replaced by new institutions, adapted to our present circumstances and development. Institutions, which functioned very well in “youth” are now decayed and corrupt and dysfunctional in advanced old age.

I’m past 60, and pretty much every thing in my body is beginning to fail, in at least minor ways. I wouldn’t expect my doctor to examine me, find my heart arteries clogging up, or my kidneys failing a bit, and announce, therefore, that I should consider re-fashioning my grandchildren without hearts or kidneys.

In the same way, I suppose, I see the failures of our monetary, banking and financial institutions as, in important ways, the outcome of “aging”. I look to reform and renewal, but I don’t look to a world without money or finance. It’s not that I shy away from radical measures; I’d be fine with nationalizing the banks, and simply wiping away many of the toxic securities they’ve created in recent years; I think it would be perfectly reasonable to claw back the proceeds from employees going back a decade or more. I think the banking regulatory reforms advocated by neoliberals can be dismissed out of hand. If it were up to me, a new system would entail a high degree of “financial repression” and much smaller units, and a diversity of strategic orientation. I’d ban usury. And, then the whole cycle would begin again. Whatever system we devised would age, too, and a future generation would have to deal with euthanizing it and birthing a new system.

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Plume 01.21.14 at 8:18 am

Bruce Wilder 265,

There is nothing “flippant” in what I said. I’m passionately anticapitalist and committed to alternative visions.

Your post confirms what I suspected. You haven’t actually read what I’ve written — no doubt skimming through it or ignoring it altogether. People who decide they don’t “respect” someone online, don’t bother.

And that leads to caricature and cartoon, not an accurate portrayal. It’s clear that you don’t get what I’ve said and you aren’t trying to. As the young kids used to say, whatever.

And I’ll leave the rest for another day.

274

reason 01.21.14 at 9:15 am

Bruce Wilder @265
Doesn’t Animal Farm say the same thing better?

275

Ed Herdman 01.21.14 at 10:32 am

I can’t wait for these car bombings everybody’s talking about!

It is a mystery to me what it was about the Vietnam era that made some people light themselves on fire but even at that time it was a rare thing. Groaning allusions to our master the Man aside, impartial civil institutions are strong enough that problematic groups tend to get squashed before they cause trouble.

276

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 10:36 am

Consumatopia: ” I’m only pointing out the error in the way you defined liberalism because Wilentz (and possibly Golumbia) likely made the same error.”

I wouldn’t dream of defining liberalism. Liberalism can be a million different things, some of them more important than others, to different people. But the characteristics I mentioned – the welfare state, the technocratic management – I don’t think they are particularly controversial or uncommon.

“You can make a liberal defense of a particular database employed for particular ends.”

Exactly. Not that anything is wrong with that. I actually think that liberal answer “it depends” is better than libertarian “absolutely not”. It’s just that while I understand libertarian righteous indignation vis-a-vis this database (like I said, a very reasonable idea on the face of it, compared to something like the cointelpro), I don’t think it’s a good idea for the liberals to get carried away denouncing it, because tomorrow you might find yourself defending it. That’s all.

This also explains, btw, why the Pauls and not a Democratic senator.

277

Patrick S 01.21.14 at 11:38 am

Great original post.

But 269 comments … out of interest I copied this to a text editor and did a word-count – it comes in as a shade over 40,000 words. 4/10 of the way to a PhD thesis, well done CT commentariat ;)

278

mattski 01.21.14 at 11:56 am

Plume to Bruce Wilder:

There is nothing “flippant” in what I said. I’m passionately anticapitalist and committed to alternative visions… It’s clear that you don’t get what I’ve said and you aren’t trying to.

Hey, I have an idea that I think merits everyone’s attention. In fact, I think I’ll make a habit of posting promiscuously in comments about it. Here it is: I am passionately anti-war and I believe we should replace war with a new approach to life which I call, “peace.” War is bad for people, and peace is much, much better. Let’s replace war with peace! Will you all now see my light and follow me to a glorious new world?

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Salem 01.21.14 at 12:03 pm

Remember, mattski, that when people point out that peace can be bad too, you can simply claim that’s not true peace. I always find it’s helpful to solve problems by defining them away.

280

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 12:39 pm

Ah, thanks Peter T, that makes sense

heres another pretty interesting link for anyone interested

http://www.thestraddler.com/201412/piece2.php

281

bob mcmanus 01.21.14 at 2:17 pm

that when people point out that peace [liberalism] can be bad too, you can simply claim that’s not true peace [liberalism].

I think Unemployed Negativity is a terrific plan.

Neoliberalism can thus be understood as a particular intersection in which politics, or democratic politics, are increasingly undermined by an economics of competition. As Gilbert argues:

‘Neoliberal culture works specifically to enhance our creative capacities while inhibiting any attempt to put them to work in a collective, political, democratic fashion: almost by definition, this makes meetings—in workplaces, communities, political organizations or civil society bodies—tendentially impotent and hence frustrating, compared to the sense of agency we are permitted to experience daily as individual consumers and labour-market competitors.”

“[competitiveness] makes blog comment threads…tendentially impotent and frustrating”

282

MPAVictoria 01.21.14 at 2:21 pm

” compared to the sense of agency we are permitted to experience daily as individual consumers and labour-market competitors”

Sense of agency? I wish!

283

LFC 01.21.14 at 2:42 pm

@Bruce Wilder

Reifying the political economy as “capitalism” and talking flippantly about “replacements” is not a rhetorical move, or analytic strategy I respect.

I don’t think “capitalism” is a particular, distinct and definite thing, which can be replaced wholesale. It is not, imho, an appropriate or productive way to think about the institutional problems of political economy, or their attendant difficulties.

Simply saying “capitalism is bad and let’s replace it with socialism” is not, in itself, especially useful or illuminating. But “capitalism” is not an empty, meaningless word or useless category provided that (1)it’s defined in some reasonably precise way (which is possible) and (2)one recognizes that there are a variety of capitalisms, at a national level, in the contemp. world. Moreover, there is a long, varied tradition of anti-capitalist thought continuing to the present, some of which is programmatic in orientation, and it would prob. be a mistake to assume that there is nothing useful or interesting in that tradition and in the work in that tradition being done today.

Calling oneself a “socialist” can be a shorthand way of conveying a desire for more basic, structural changes than most contemp. US ‘liberals’ support; the usefulness of the label can be disputed and it’s fuzzy, but so are most political labels until one defines them. Shorter: I agree that just repeating “let’s get rid of capitalism” is not very illuminating or helpful, but to react to this by proposing that the word “capitalism” be banished from pol./ec. discourse is going too far in the other direction.

And, to revert to the first point, to assume that there is nothing useful in the writings of comtemp. economists and others who identify themselves as anti-capitalist of one variety or another is prob. wrong. I am not v. familiar w most of this lit., but surely there is something of interest e.g. in the tradition of ‘market socialism’ running from O. Lange to, e.g., Leland Stauber or Alec Nove, or the different work of J. Roemer, Albert/Hahnel, and others. Plume I think has mentioned inter alia J. B. Foster, who may also, like those just mentioned, have concrete ideas, though as with most of the others I am not familiar enough to be endorsing. But it is not a tradition, or more precisely traditions (plural), that I would want to write off as useless. (These names of course intended as illustrative, not exhaustive.) [Then of course there is the whole other postmodernist (for lack of a better word) inflected stream that mcmanus likes, and there might also be something useful there, though my instinctive feeling, obvs. not shared by mcmanus, is that one prob. has to plow through a lot of verbiage to get to the insights, such as they might be.]

284

Josh G. 01.21.14 at 3:00 pm

William Timberman @ 2: “The confusion about which is the liberal state and which the surveillance state/drunken hegemon afflicted the New Republic long before Greenwald, Assange, Snowden, et al. appeared at the scene of Wilentz’s dismay.

It goes back to Herbert Croly, at least.
Sean Wilentz’s position is basically unvarnished Wilsonism. A very authoritarian, top–down coopting of progressivism in the service of the military-industrial complex.

285

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 3:09 pm

@268

impartial civil institutions are strong enough that problematic groups tend to get squashed before they cause trouble.

When the civil institutions are no longer “impartial,” and large numbers of educated and angry middle class people are unemployed, we shall see how easily the problematic groups are squashed. The plutocrats can’t imagine a tipping point in which the state security apparatus can’t protect them, so they will keep crushing the middle class until the inevitable blowback occurs.

The USA is a poorly regulated society that lurches from one artificial crisis to the next. Our politics are propelled by “emergencies” and a warfare mentality (war on poverty, war on crime, war on drugs, war on terror, etc.). Thus we must wait for inequality to become an emergency before we can expect a political adjustment. This process will likely involve significant social disruption.

286

Josh G. 01.21.14 at 3:18 pm

Alex @ 81: “It’s quite possible to believe that they have a point, while not actually thinking that the police are obliged not to ask Vodafone for a trace on the suspected kidnapper’s car because FREEDOM.

You really don’t see the difference between targeted surveillance of specific criminal suspects and blanket surveillance of everyone all the time?
The Fourth Amendment makes this distinction quite clear. If the cops want to do surveillance on a suspected criminal, they’re supposed to go to a judge and get a warrant. I don’t see why this is so hard to understand.

287

Anarcissie 01.21.14 at 3:21 pm

LFC 01.21.14 at 2:42 pm @ 276 — It might be useful to distinguish between capitalism, the practice, and the capitalist state, which is the situation in which the practitioners of the practice (the bourgeoisie) have political and social dominance through control of the government and other major state institutions. Capitalism existed interstitially in previous eras, and it could continue to exist in a polity in which it was not dominant.

288

Kaveh 01.21.14 at 3:22 pm

@261 “What are the top two leftie organizations which you would claim are as good as CATO on condemning the security state?”

The ACLU comes to mind.

I thought they were sekrit libertarians. This thread is moving too fast for me.

289

Kaveh 01.21.14 at 3:23 pm

Ugh. “The ACLU comes to mind” was supposed to be in quotes

290

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 3:39 pm

This thread has become a textbook example of the political impotence of progressive intellectuals. It has centered on a debating contest over the ideological purity of Glenn Greenwald, abandoning entirely the substance of the Snowden revelations and instead trying to make nostrums of the “left” and “right” elastic enough to stretch over any set of positions. When intelligent and highly educated people can’t engage matters of substance and instead dissipate their energies in meaningless disputation over inadequate political nomenclature, then there can be no productive discourse.

291

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 3:40 pm

The ACLU, much like Chomksy and Greenwald, *are* libertarians. However, they are libertarian socialists, not libertarian rightists. Big fu*king difference.

Beginning in the 1850s, libertarian had always meant ‘far left wing’ – against property, commerce, but also against the authoritarian socialism of Blanqi and Marx – and stayed that way for over a hundred years until a faction of the right-wing started using the term around 1970s. In most other parts of the world, libertarian still means left-wing.

292

Seth Edenbaum 01.21.14 at 3:48 pm

“The ACLU is a conservative organization” Spencer Coxe
Free speech for Nazis. No banning of political parties. The rule of law for all, not the rule of the reason of some. Call it Burkean socialism.

293

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 3:55 pm

“When intelligent and highly educated people can’t engage matters of substance and instead dissipate their energies in meaningless disputation over inadequate political nomenclature, then there can be no productive discourse.”

I don’t see what the correlation is here. What you’ve written is simply a series of biased assertions. The disputation may seem “meaningless” to you, but I see value in it. I think it’s important to discuss terminology in relation to politics, history and ideas. These are questions of substance, as words, movements, ideas have historical meaning/impact and should not simply be ignored or erased. How is such a discussion meaningless?

You then take that unfounded assertion and use it to commit what might be described politely as a logical fallacy. You say that people engaged in arguments over political nomenclature have somehow forfeited any ability to also engage in ‘productive discourse’. But what does one thing have to do with the other?

Most of us are capable of arguing about political nomenclature and, at the same time, discussing the content of the leaks along many other subjects as well. It’s not that complicated.

294

Kaveh 01.21.14 at 3:55 pm

@284 Yes, I got that from the earlier comments, I was being facetious.

295

bob mcmanus 01.21.14 at 3:58 pm

Will Wilkinson …stays on topic, mentioning the important names, Snowden, Wilentz, even Farrell! And explains, once and for all and definitively the difference between liberalism and libertarianism.

meaningless disputation over inadequate political nomenclature, then there can be no productive discourse.

Nihilist!

Our liberalism is the only true liberalism, guaranteed 100% pure liberalism by the Goldilocks and Aristotle Ideological Language Lab, with stringent quarterly testing to ensure our product has:

14.8% less competition than neoliberalism
27.3% less competition than libertarianism
17.0% more competition than social democracy
and a full 37.1% more competition than democratic socialism

What’s more, our liberalism is adjusted dynamically in the field by our customers to match their immediate discursive needs.

296

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 4:10 pm

@285

Please tell me how an extended debate over the purity of GG’s “liberal” credentials is in any way relevant to the Snowden disclosures. Please explain how Glenn Greenwald should be the logical focus of discussion of a scandal involving outrageous malfeasance at the NSA. Please describe how attempting to precisely locate GG on the left-right political spectrum has enhanced your understanding of the world and made you a better citizen.

297

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 4:22 pm

288,

You might have noticed that this post is a response to an article written about Greenwald’s politics. You may not like this discussion, but that is hardly my fault.

I’m not interested in becoming “a better citizens” – whatever *that means. I look at history to see how movements and ideas have evolved over time. Greenwald’s political ideology is of interest to me, because I see it – and the movement he inspires – as a part of the general re-emergence of left-libertarianism or libertarian socialism, that we saw in Occupy and around the world in other social movements, such as in Argentina, Greece and Spain.

Libertarian socialists throughout history include the IWW, the anarcho-syndicalists in Spain, council communism, and individual thinkers like Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Day, William Morris, George Orwell, Dwight Macdonald, Leo Tolstoy, George Bernard Shaw, etc.

298

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 4:28 pm

@289

I’m not interested in becoming “a better citizens” – whatever *that means.

QED

299

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 4:31 pm

290,

Ooh. What a zinger. Do you always go around the web trying to use other peoples’ typos against them?

300

Sebastian H 01.21.14 at 4:34 pm

“So, lefties who have condemned the security state include, well, all of us. And we’re better at it than Cato, I would argue.”

Better at talking about it? Maybe. Better at doing things about it, not so far. Especially those who don’t want to include Wikileaks and Snowden.

As for the ACLU, I would argue that once Greenwald got the Snowden revelations out there, they have been good about trying to advocate for Snowden. That’s good. Before that, I would say they had a very different focus then the CATO/Reason side and that the two were complements, not ready replacements.

The problem here is that Plume, SoU and the other fundamentalist purists are doing is DRAMATICALLY overestimating a) how much lefties in general are against the security state, and b) how many of them there are, with a possible set of c) I’d rather lose than lose my purity.

Lefties in general have a horrible history on the security state. Nearly all of the semi-successful totalitarian states were leftist with very deep security state features. That isn’t to say that there haven’t been voices on the left against the security state. But the idea that the left in general is against the security state is frankly bullshit. This isn’t typical both sides do it crap either where pointing it out is meant as a distraction. This is a case where the left as a whole has been horrible on an issue.

There aren’t enough people on just one side of the left/right divide to expect to get the security state under control without alliances. And despite your ‘being offended’ upthread, I’m confident that someone who doesn’t realize that hasn’t done as much social good in the world as libertarian Radley Balko.

That isn’t a slam, I certainly haven’t done as much social good in the world either. But if you can’t recognize people who can be true allies on very important issues, you risk losing on the very important issues.

301

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 4:35 pm

@291

Here, let me help you:

I’m not interested in becoming “a better citizen” – whatever that means.

QED

302

mattski 01.21.14 at 4:35 pm

LFC @ 276

I agree that just repeating “let’s get rid of capitalism” is not very illuminating or helpful, but to react to this by proposing that the word “capitalism” be banished from pol./ec. discourse is going too far in the other direction.

I don’t think Bruce did any such thing. That is, he was objecting to a particular use of the word, not to its use in general. Of course the word is useful and has meaning. But, as you suggest, it is shorthand. As I understand Bruce he is objecting to idolatry, and I agree completely with that perspective.

303

Kaveh 01.21.14 at 4:41 pm

I’m amazed that people need to defend the existence of left-libertarianism as a real live valid position on the political spectrum. I had always just kind of taken for granted that I stood somewhere in that area, and furthermore so do most people I read or engage in any kind of political discussion with–recognizing that there are tensions between individual autonomy and social welfare, but that the current political moment is characterized by a lot of opportunities to advance both of those agendas at once (drug decriminalization, fighting security theater & the security state, the MIC…), which is either a sign that the badguys are winning, or that the goodguys are very good at coming up with new ways to advance our goals (I think it’s a bit of both…).

I think it’s useful to be reminded that that tension is there, but there are already much more nuanced, thoughtful discussions of that nature & better ways of doing this than ad hominems and extreme cui bono arguments…

304

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 4:54 pm

Isn’t left libertarianism just being a liberal? ie trying to shift the focus of government policies – replace criminalisation of drugs with treatment of addiction, replace criminalisation of prostitution with regulation, replace mass incarceration with reform, have a more sensible approach to national security threats etc
My understanding is libertarians just dont want the govt involved, that the problem *is* the government and if that can be dissolved all with be good – is that the same with left libertarians?

305

Plume 01.21.14 at 4:56 pm

Mattski,

I don’t do “idolatry.” That’s your thing, not mine. My thing is the anarchist’s “no gods, no masters,” and I’ve pretty much gotten rid of all of them over the course of my 50 plus year. I went out of my way to extinguish them in my life, through research, study, observation and contemplation . . . . starting with the Christian religion at age nine.

306

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 4:58 pm

295,

“I’m amazed that people need to defend the existence of left-libertarianism”

I’m amazed that you’re amazed, since most people (or Americans anyway) deny the very existence of libertarian socialism, dismissing it as an oxymoron.

These days, whenever someone says “libertarian” they are almost certainly referring to libertarian conservatives and not left-libertarians like Chomsky.

307

bianca steele 01.21.14 at 4:58 pm

Calling oneself a “socialist” can be a shorthand way of conveying a desire for more basic, structural changes than most contemp. US ‘liberals’ support; the usefulness of the label can be disputed and it’s fuzzy, but so are most political labels until one defines them.

We’re probably not in disagreement, but one of the more annoying aspects of these discussions is the idea that it makes sense to use the word “socialist” to define people who don’t have anything in common with any socialist politics in which they might engage, and moreover to define those whose positions on almost all topics are actually right of center (of the average, the Overton window, the major non-socialist parties, etc.). (This is not to denigrate the idea that envisioning a left utopia can be called socialist, but not all utopias are socialist utopias, obviously.)

And Dwight Macdonald? Really? See above, “even the liberal New Republic.”

308

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 5:02 pm

Ronan 296,

Depends on the left-libertarian. Anarchists like Bakunin and Emma Goldman were militantly anti-government. Even Chomsky is not keen on the welfare state, but at the same time he would not, as he put it, want children to go hungry in order to remain an anarchist purist. Left-libertarians are anti-capitalist and anti-State while looking to rebuild society from below through directly democratic forms of organization.

309

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 5:07 pm

“My understanding is libertarians just dont want the govt involved, that the problem *is* the government and if that can be dissolved all with be good – is that the same with left libertarians?”

Yes. Any hierarchy is a big NO. As in The Dispossessed.

310

Plume 01.21.14 at 5:08 pm

Bob Wilder 265,

You may believe it’s not useful to discuss alternatives, or speak in terms of “capitalism” being a thing. But I don’t agree. And all of your sophistical counters to what I’ve said make me think of some classroom in, oh, say, Georgia, in the middle of the 19th century.

You’re the teacher, and you overhear some students talking about slavery, and a desire to end it and replace it with something else:

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Be like me!! Smug, certain, above it all!! I know slavery is here to stay, and we have to accept it! We have to accept that elites will always be with us, and bad things happen and just get on with our lives. Oh, and all of that talk of inevitability? Nonsense. History won’t save us and slavery will always be with us. It’s just the natural state of man.”

. . . .

Of course, your comment about “millenialism” is rather bizarre, at least if you’re referring to me. Because, while being a non-orthodox and non-doctrinaire Marxist, I don’t agree with historical inevitability of any kind. I’m more inclined to see accidents, chance, chaos in degrees, pivot points and crossroads and such. That could go in many different directions, etc. Pretty much nothing is inevitable, including capitalism’s continued existence.

I also disagree with Marx that primitive accumulation ended with the transition to capitalism. It’s ongoing, as we speak — especially in the so-called Third World.

In short, Mr Wilder, Me Thinks Thou Dost Project Too Much.

311

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 5:10 pm

bianca steele 299,

What about Dwight Macdonald? He was a self-described libertarian socialist and anarchist.

“By ‘socialism’ I mean a classless society in which the State has disappeared, production is cooperative, and no man [sic] has political or economic power over another. The touchstone would be the extent to which each individual could develop his [or her] own talents and personality.” –Dwight Macdonald, _The Root is Man_ (1946)

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Plume 01.21.14 at 5:18 pm

John Drinkwater,

I’m still having a great deal of difficulty in seeing GG as a libertarian socialist. Would you admit, at least, that he hasn’t embraced the label, as others we both admire have?

. . . .

And for those wondering why Greenwald is even in the conversation in this thread, he’s a major part of the Wilentz article, which I started reading late last night and got through a goodly part of before bed.

It’s very long.

My initial take? I don’t see what the fuss is all about. It struck me as well-researched, reasonable, measured, filled with direct quotations backing up his points. While admittedly not finishing it yet, or getting to the Assange part, it in no way strikes me as a defense of Defense, NSA, etc. etc. . . . It reads more like a cautionary tale of American hero formation. For instance, Snowden’s own words (directly quoted in the article) indicate someone seriously in opposition to the left on pretty much every issue, and someone who, up until recently, was quite supportive of the Security State.

And that’s key. Snowden was not some long-time opponent (secret or otherwise) of our rotten, indefensible Security Apparatus. He was a staunch defender and completely complicit in it. I think we should pause a bit before setting him up as beyond all critique. No one is above that. No one.

313

Plume 01.21.14 at 5:22 pm

“By ‘socialism’ I mean a classless society in which the State has disappeared, production is cooperative, and no man [sic] has political or economic power over another. The touchstone would be the extent to which each individual could develop his [or her] own talents and personality.” –Dwight Macdonald, _The Root is Man_ (1946)

Bingo!! The above is exactly what I’ve been talking about and advocating for. To a T. The above is what Wilder and Mattski have mocked oh so lamely.

314

bianca steele 01.21.14 at 5:26 pm

In 1946 he self-identified as a socialist. In the 1950s he worked for a CIA-funded publication. Also in the 1950s, and afterward he vehemently defended an extreme elitist version of liberal culture. He wrote books about the poor. He did scholarship on Alexander Herzen.

If these facts make Macdonald a model for contemporary socialism, they equally work for Irving Kristol, Morse Peckham, and Isaiah Berlin. The only work of Macdonald’s that’s still read was in the veins of neoconservatism or even outright conservatism

315

bianca steele 01.21.14 at 5:29 pm

Or Ross Douthat.

316

bianca steele 01.21.14 at 5:35 pm

mao @ 150
Distrust taken to such an extreme that you’d rather have bad or no evidence for wrongdoing than good evidence (and Wilentz is right to the extent that some pieces of evidence that came out near the beginning of the Snowden affair–I haven’t followed them all since–were not evidence of what some journalists claimed–this was true of some of the claims w/r/t the corporate violations of rules that were at issue in the immunity cases, too), because needing good evidence is seen as not distrusting enough, seems to me counterproductive.

317

Plume 01.21.14 at 5:38 pm

bianca steele 306,

Very true. Pretty much all the first generations neocons came from Marxism.

It’s not where you start. It’s where you end up. My personal journey has been from center-left to far left. Over time. That’s unusual in America. It seems most tend toward conservatism as they age. This also happens a lot with artists, with regard to their chosen artistic fields, or politics, if they venture into that. Former revolutionaries become pillars of the establishment — which, 99% of the time is “conservative.”

The young Goethe would despise his older self. The young Rimbaud the same. A Betrand Russell, Camus or a Wittgenstein, I suspect, would be that rare case of being just fine with one’s aged self.

318

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 5:45 pm

Unlike Kristol et al., Macdonald never became a neocon or even a con. As late as 1970, he identified as an anarchist and also libertarian socialist.

His views on culture are certainly elitist, but they have no little or no bearing on his political socialism.

319

Plume 01.21.14 at 5:57 pm

Going back to McDonald’s statement. This may just be “semantics,” but, technically speaking, he’s describing what comes after socialism. The end goal. We get the withering away of the state with “communism.” Real communism. Small “c” communism, as Graeber has sometimes called it.

Not the perverted, bastardized, phony, wolf-in-sheeps’ clothing Soviet or Chinese knock-off. Fully actualized democracy, with no classes and no state.

All too often, someone (very ignorant) will retort that this has already been tried, and that everywhere it’s been tried, it’s been a disaster. Well, obviously, and by definition, no, it’s never, ever been even remotely tried. Nor has real socialism, as Chomsky and others repeatedly point out.

The Soviet, Chinese, Vietnamese, NK or Cuban versions weren’t even remotely “socialist,” much less communist. And you can’t, by definition, have a “communist state.”

320

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 5:58 pm

john drinkwater @300

okay, yeah, ive heard people self describe as such. Though I guess if you dont aspire to dissolve the state/markets (even if you accept thats unlikely) its just a form of liberalism

321

bianca steele 01.21.14 at 6:00 pm

Macdonald also refused to associate with SDS and the New Left, and rebuked them in terms similar to those used by Peckham: they had misunderstood the whole project, which was supposed to be individualist, not political or institutional. If he was really a socialist in the sense of common or communal ownership of property and the means of production, wouldn’t he have supported the only movement on offer that might move in that direction? The distance between Peckham’s “not political” and Macdonald’s “not institutional” seems a bit slender, in practice. In any case, defining one as libertarian and the other as, rather, anarchist seems fine to me.

322

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:00 pm

Plume,

I agree with much of what you wrote, but it (libertarian socialism) has been tried and succeeded in Spain in 1936 by the anarchists and syndicalists, a point made very frequently by Chomsky over the years, since you seem fond of him.

323

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 6:01 pm

@308 “Distrust taken to such an extreme that you’d rather have bad or no evidence for wrongdoing than good evidence”.

Who said anything about evidence? The logic goes: power corrupts, therefore: distrust.

This is a very common attitude indeed, see, for example, James Madison: “…In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” … etc.

324

mattski 01.21.14 at 6:06 pm

@ 297

I don’t do “idolatry.”

My friend Plume.

325

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:07 pm

The New Left had many elements. DM didn’t like SDS, because he saw them as a potential Socialist or Communist Party. Anarchists are against parties or top-down socialism and instead favor socialism from below. But socialism from below is not “individualism” and DM made clear for years that he favored this form of socialism. There’s an old saying that I think help clarifies: all anarchists are socialists, but not all socialists are anarchists.

326

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:09 pm

Ronan 312,

That sounds almost right. I think you can be an anti-capitalist, a real socialist, and seek an end to “free markets” but see the state as a temporary but necessary step toward the end goal.

There are, of course, people who don’t want to take that next step. They seek a socialism that remains socialism. If they include markets in the mix, then, yes, that would seem to be more a left-liberalism than the real deal.

The idea of “free markets” is comforting to many. And a dodge. It takes people off the hook so they don’t have to look under the hood of those “free markets” — thinking, well, “freedom” is always good. In reality, it’s just cover for economic apartheid. The playground bullies will always take over, force subservience and run the show. Which is why I think the only way out of that trap is to do away with markets, money and profit and switch to use-value, made-to-order, by necessity, localized, commonly-held production.

With an emphasis on work to live and a ton of free time, rather than our live to work, rare free time system.

327

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:11 pm

bianca,

You’re wrong to say he refused to associate with the New Left, however. He was a fan of both the Black Panthers and the Yippies. Well, he liked the latter until they starting burning dewey decimal cards in the library…

328

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:13 pm

Mattski 316,

And that’s supposed to prove, what, exactly? You’re getting more petty and childish by the post.

Why not, for once, actually try to contribute your own ideas about the topic, instead of spending your time on incredibly lame insults?

329

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 6:17 pm

Plume @318, I must say that even if your goals seem completely unfeasible to me (and tbh not even desirable if possible) I like you. You’re a breathe of fresh air, to my mind

330

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:17 pm

John Drinkwater 314,

I meant on any national scale. I thought that was clear from the references to various nations.

I love what they attempted in Spain in the 1930s. And Mondragon seems to be a kind of offshoot to that. Though it falls short in many key ways. In relative terms, however, it’s a major leap beyond its context.

331

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 6:22 pm

reason @ 267 George Orwell is a much better writer than I.

LFC @ 276 You make a number of excellent points.

“Capitalism” is sometimes used to denote a kind of moral force in the construction of a narrative in which that moral force is a crucial motivating element. It may be that that’s the way Plume intends it: a kind of moral Prime Mover, immanent in every development of modernism in the Western “market economy”. Just as Thomas Aquinas’s Prime Mover was not a proximate cause in a mechanical sense in the physical world, but nevertheless the ground of meaning for everything, so “Capitalism” . . . And, Plume is arguing that “Capitalism” doesn’t have to be our Prime Mover; we could substitute another, more morally satisfactorily Prime Mover, less infected with greed and selfishness at its core, which would change the meaning of everything, re-color our institutions of social cooperation with more satisfactory meanings, helping to guide us to new forms and moral expectations.

In that case, Plume and I are just talking past each, our terms and frames of reference simply incommensurable. It might as well be a conversation between an astronomer and an astrologer about the movements of the stars in the night sky. I don’t intend that choice of analogy to denigrate astrologers or the importance of meaning in human affairs. The Neoliberal doctrines of Larry Summers or the conservative libertarianism of Milton Friedman are more about preaching an economic religion than about the mechanics of institutional design and reform, and it may be that Plume, in his way, aims to confront and contradict them on their own Plane, as it were. More power to him, and bless, in that case.

Still, I belong more to the “Economics is not a morality play” camp, hoping to wake people up from their trance states and fears, to see the economy as something mundane, something we do, a set of imperfect instruments, whose marginal, practical efficiency is a technical problem with material implications. I suppose none of that is really separate from the moral perfectability of the human character, but I see the immediate issue as one of inching humans just a bit further away from their instincts for magical thinking and human sacrifice. What I object to, in neoliberalism and libertarianism, are (among other things) the superstitions of the cargo cult, the invoking of the confidence fairy and the fetish for sacrificing the unemployed on a pyre of austerity, as if we’ve just suffered a harvest failure and need the gods to make it rain.

In practice, I tend to focus my scorn and criticism on the b.s. of the corrupt academic economists, who use the technical vocabulary to obfuscate and obscure and confuse, in order to create a vacuum of shared understanding, which economic pseudo-religious preaching can fill. Alternative religious preaching, filling the same vacuum, ginned up from Marxist millennialism, just irritates me. YMMV

332

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 6:26 pm

Better at talking about it? Maybe. Better at doing things about it, not so far. Especially those who don’t want to include Wikileaks and Snowden.

I’m all for more cooperation with libertarians and conservatives on specific issues. That’s how legislating works. But so far, Democrats in Congress, even under Obama, have voted better on these issues than Republicans in Congress have, once votes are counted. When it comes to these issues, Senator Paul tends to have more Democratic than Republican allies. (Democratic voters in polls are currently worse than Republicans, but not as bad as Republicans were under Bush.)

Worth noting that a President Paul wouldn’t necessarily be better than President Obama. On some issues–constitutional protections for non-citizens–he’s much worse. And I think there’s a bit of flimsiness to his stances. e.g. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or policeman kills him” I’m not even sure President Balko would be so great–he was initially pro-torture.

One has to take allies where we can find them, but to the extent that libertarians get to lead the conversation it’s worse for these causes, because they get some fundamental things about the debate wrong. In the case of surveillance, they focus on the government when corporations conduct more extensive surveillance (and anything corporations know the government should be assumed to know). They focus on citizenship when surveillance crosses national borders. If we eliminate NSA surveillance of American citizens, that in itself won’t do much to give us much more privacy–the CIA would be perfectly happy to rely on contractors or even foreign governments to spy on us by proxy.

333

John Drinkwater 01.21.14 at 6:27 pm

Plume,

It was widespread. We’re talking about thousands of factories, former agricultural estates, in addition to transport systems, small businesses, entire towns, including major cities like Barcelona. Moreover, the Republican government had collapsed and the country was being run and defended by revolutionary workers’ committees, who won some early battles against Franco. I believe that qualifies as ‘national scale’.

334

mattski 01.21.14 at 6:28 pm

Plume,

Why not, for once, actually try to contribute your own ideas about the topic, instead of spending your time on incredibly lame insults?

I did not insult you. Seriously. AND, I have often ventured ideas of my own. You would know this had you been paying attention.

335

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 6:29 pm

In the vein of Prime Mover theses, Polanyi’s struggle to embed the market might be a better model than Marx’s Hegelian class struggle. Random thought.

336

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:38 pm

Mattski 326,

No insult? Really? Then why the link with the title (and the article linked)? What was the point?

337

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 6:42 pm

“And Mondragon seems to be a kind of offshoot to that..”

Is Mondragon an example of left libertarianism/anarchism ? A lot of its development is tied up in catholic social teaching afaict. Or at least thats the demographic I used to hear about it from. Were the Catholic Church also involved in the anarchists successes in Barcelona ?
I’d say Mondragon is something that could be learnt from in some specific ways, though Id doubt it’s scaleable

338

Trader Joe 01.21.14 at 6:42 pm

Bruce Wilder @195 – Your paragraph below was one of the most cleverly written I’ve seen in some time and well summarizes a multitude of the points presented. If there had had been a “like” button I’d have clicked it 10x…..readers who may have skipped it should read the full comment. Bravo.

“Where is the Left?” is a re-current question in this thread, and in political discussions on CT, because there’s a power vacuum. It may be hard to see, when the corporate plutocracy seems so powerful, but there’s little in the way of mass politics in the U.S. or Western Europe. The politicians and political parties and some of the interest groups and other institutions have stumbled on like zombies drained of blood and animating passions, but there’s no mass politics, beyond a bit of cheerleading on cable news for jerseys of this color or that.

339

mattski 01.21.14 at 6:42 pm

Plume, the point was that D-K is a legitimate description of some people in some contexts.

340

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:48 pm

Bruce Wilder 323,

Prime (moral) mover? I have no idea how you got such grandiose notions from what I’ve written. Same with the accusation of “millenialism” already discussed.

I’m talking about capitalism’s internal mechanics, its nuts and bolts, why it does what it does, “naturally.” Its intent and its effects. Its contradictions and tendencies. In the real world.

I’m pointing to the insanity of an economic system designed and implemented with one purpose and one purpose only in mind: To increase capital holdings for capitalists. To increase their person accumulation of wealth.

As mentioned in another thread, if a capitalist could make money by selling shit on a stick, they would do it. We know this based upon all the things they sell that cause cancer, various diseases, obesity, diabetes, the destruction of ecosystems, the rain forests and so on. Capitalism is the first economic system severed from the land, severed from use-value, severed from the needs of local populations.

Not that the record of previous economic systems is at all good. Far, far from it. But it’s capitalism that has taken all the worst aspects of previous systems, concentrated them, making them portable and exportable, while completely jettisoning the few rays of hope in the past . . . . such as set-asides for the commons, a host of “holidays,” much shorter work weeks and the possibility of self-provisioning.

Please stop distorting what I’ve written with your projections. They’re truly not even remotely applicable.

341

Plume 01.21.14 at 6:51 pm

Ronan 329,

I was trying to hedge things while bringing up Mondragon. Perhaps it’s not a good example. Its model is “worker-owned and managed” which doesn’t have to have anything to do at all with anarchism, necessarily.

Point taken.

342

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 6:54 pm

@ Plume

I was wondering more than making a point. I dont know for sure exactley how it all developed (how much was an outgrowth from civil war anarchism etc)

343

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 7:02 pm

bob mcmanus @ 287:

Will Wilkinson: Of course, it’s crazily illogical to reason that the actually existing state is justified on liberal terms just because the libertarian critique of the state is false, and a legitimate liberal state is possible. That’s really silly.

Indeed, it is.

344

Plume 01.21.14 at 7:02 pm

Ronan 334,

I’m no expert at all on Mondragon. But I really like the concept, at least within the context of capitalism — which, as said, I want to dump. It is a definite step (and major improvement) in the right direction.

Here’s one of my favorite economists, Richard Wolff, on Mondragon:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/24/alternative-capitalism-mondragon

And on youtube:

345

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 7:04 pm

I don’t think it’s a good idea for the liberals to get carried away denouncing it, because tomorrow you might find yourself defending it.

Actually, no, if I could invent a technology that made surveillance of communication impossible, even including the metadata, I would totally do that. Some good can be achieved by surveillance (e.g. catching some criminals) but the dangers of enabling censorship or ethnic/religious/political profiling are too great.

Not all liberals would agree with me, but you can’t use that position as evidence that I “despise the modern liberal state”.

This also explains, btw, why the Pauls and not a Democratic senator.

Wyden has been better on these issues than Paul. Paul is better at getting media attention, but he’s fuzzy on whether he actually objects to surveillance, detention, or drone strikes when they happen to non-citizens (except insofar as all of those things would cost taxpayers money?) A good example would be when he declared victory after his drone filibuster despite no change in Obama’s policy.

346

LFC 01.21.14 at 7:36 pm

B. Wilder @323:
Thks for the reply. I’m mulling it over. Yr reference to Polanyi @327 is I think pertinent. I once had a prof. who was big on Polanyi’s ideas of ‘embeddedness’ and ‘the double movement’, and I know there have been efforts to apply them to contemp. conditions and flesh them out somewhat programmatically.

Bianca Steele @299: I didn’t propose using “socialist” in those ways you object to, so I think we do not disagree here.

Anarcissie @280: You raise interesting issues which I can’t deal w adequately in a comment box or actually have time to get into right now. Sorry, I know that’s a cop-out. [Sometimes life interferes w participating in comment threads. ;)]

347

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 7:37 pm

“… you can’t use that position as evidence that I “despise the modern liberal state”.”

Could you explain why not, please. After all, you want to cripple a very important federal agency; deprive them of a tool they say is critical to their work, because of your vague non-specific suspicions. Why would one have terrible suspicions about the NSA, but not (e.g.) the FDA or FEMA.

…which reminds me: I watched a movie recently, Dallas Buyers Club. It’s based on real events and it portrays the FDA in a very bad light. Bullying, killing people, if indirectly.

348

Layman 01.21.14 at 7:39 pm

“Why would one have terrible suspicions about the NSA, but not (e.g.) the FDA or FEMA.”

Because there’s evidence the NSA is spying on us, while there’s no evidence the FDA or FEMA are? What’s complicated about that?

349

Brian Dell 01.21.14 at 7:46 pm

“‘it’s all a Russian plot, of course’ line that various cranks have been pushing on the Internet.”

So, then, the Snowden “was transiting through Russia on his way to somewhere else, and got trapped there by US actions” line we’ve heard from Greenwald isn’t a line being pushed by a crank on the Internet, it’s just fact we should all accept as true? It’s fact that it’s in fact an American plot that that has “trapped” Snowden in Russia?

Please explain how revoking Snowden’s passport stopped Snowden’s onward travel when his passport was in fact revoked before he ever left Hong Kong. Do check the facts here regarding the timing. And please see legal scholar James C. Hathaway’s observations which shoot down the contention that having an invalid passport constrains the Kremlin in any legal way in terms of letting Snowden continue onwards towards a third country.

According to Greenwald, that Kommersant story Wilentz mentions “was fabricated.” Yet days later Putin went on TV to admit that Russian officials were in contact with Snowden in Hong Kong! Yet who has pointed out that Greenwald’s bogus allegation was made of “straw and horseshit”? The celebrity surrounding Greenwald is simply too great to allow critical thinking, apparently.

Putin said in that September 4 interview that he was “told about Snowden” by his diplomats in Hong Kong and decided that “he can stay,” but there was no need for Snowden (or his Wikileaks helpers) to arrange a transit visa or other advance permission with Russian diplomats in Hong Kong if he truly intended to just transit: “Russian law does not require you to have a transit visa if you are transiting through one international airport in Russia, whereby you will not leave the customs zone, and will depart within 24 hours to an onward international destination.” What would have created a need for special permission, however, would have been an intention to NOT continue onward within 24 hours!

350

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 7:47 pm

Define ‘spying’. They keep everyone’s phone bill in a database, so that they can run a query (with a court warrant, according to the latest proposal) and find the associates of a suspected terrorist. Does it mean they are spying on you?

Besides, I just gave you an example of the FDA (arguably) killing people suffering from AIDS. Is that more complicated?

351

Brian Dell 01.21.14 at 7:48 pm

““Why would one have terrible suspicions about the NSA, but not (e.g.) the FDA or FEMA.”

Actually there are some conspiracy theories surrounding the FDA (e.g. the agency was corrupted to approve aspartame) but the NSA attracts the most because it is both secretive and so close to power.

352

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 7:53 pm

Plume @ 332: I’m talking about capitalism’s internal mechanics, its nuts and bolts

From my perspective, that’s the one thing you are not talking about, the thing you consistently avoid. I recognize hierarchy as useful, necessary for highly specialized social cooperation, but problematic. That’s what the nuts and bolts are about.

You insist against logic and experience that hierarchy is superfluous. Refusing to recognize its functional usefulness, you can hardly have much interest in, or understanding of, the “nuts and bolts”.

353

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 7:55 pm

After all, you want to cripple a very important federal agency; deprive them of a tool they say is critical to their work, because of your vague non-specific suspicions.

So much idiocy in a single sentence.

A liberal can accept making some government work harder if it means protecting ourselves from possible illiberal government action.

America would be just fine if we outright disbanded the NSA. We would actually be safer–the NSA is actually making our software weaker, and therefore our infrastructure more vulnerable to attack.

And there’s nothing non-specific about “enabling censorship or ethnic/religious/political profiling”. I oppose all censorship and ethnic/religious/political profiling, not just an unspecified subset of it. And ethnic/religious/political profiling is something that happens today at all levels of government (from stop and frisk to infiltrating mosques).

You’re on some weird bizarro planet. But it’s hilarious because you basically have to adopt this illogic to defend Wilentz’s claim.

354

Salem 01.21.14 at 8:01 pm

“Were the Catholic Church also involved in the anarchists successes in Barcelona ?”

Sorta. It was “involved” in the sense that it was persecuted, churches were seized and demolished, thousands of clergy were murdered, as indeed was anyone considered anti-revolutionary or “fascist.” And then, of course, the murderous Anarchists were ousted by the equally murderous Communists, who did the same to them. If this is success, give me failure every time.

355

Plume 01.21.14 at 8:03 pm

Bruce Wilder 342,

So, now your bogeyman is the attempt to limit (if not end) hierarchy? You’re really defending it? Defending the ruling class and rule by elites? Seriously?

First it was nonsense about the “Prime (Moral) Mover” and “Millenialism” and now you’ve switched to your misreading and mischaraterization of a desire for actual democracy.

Please at least pick one absurd projection (and bizarre defense of the establishment) and stick with it.

356

bob mcmanus 01.21.14 at 8:05 pm

I’ve read a couple books by and on Polanyi and found them weak tea Marxism.

Who or what is it that does this embedding or dis-embedding?

And Capitalism is no more or less a thing then we are. The social and ontological analysis of Capitalism, the one that says “Capitalism” (or liberalism, or the economy) are not “out there” and are not disembodied is the Marxian I am interested in, and is the Marx of Capital.

Which starts Chapter One with alienation, re-ifiction, and commodification, social relations between an individual and her agency, volumes before Marx writes of institutions, markets, corporations or states.

It, Capitalism, is about turning oneself into an embodied abstraction (worker, owner, patriot, liberal, revolutionary). Just as sexism, racism, colonialism etc are about turning oneself and others into objects (Sartre, Levinas, Butler) in a structured sociality in order to facilitate communicative exchange within universalized value systems.

Marxism is about becoming a empathic subject in a body. Its praxis starts in interpersonal conversation. Reform of the banking system can wait until we have one, two, an army of persons.

357

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 8:06 pm

Consumatopia, what’s with the tone?

I don’t see any connection between “enabling censorship or ethnic/religious/political profiling” and having the database of phone bills, queried by a court warrant. That’s why your terrible suspicions seem vague (and I’m being polite here).

Besides, if you presume (that’s what it sounds like) that the government is inherently racist and politically repressive, then you definitely do “despise the modern liberal state”.

358

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 8:16 pm

You’re not being polite, you’re being disingenuous. You’ve used up all good faith anyone would extend to you, I only replied because you illustrated Wilentz’s mistakes pretty well.

Yes, a list of who-called-who is extremely useful for censorship and profiling. If that’s not obvious to you, tough.

if you presume (that’s what it sounds like) that the government is inherently racist and politically repressive,

Didn’t say that, if it sounded like that to you it’s entirely the fault of how you read it.

359

MPAVictoria 01.21.14 at 8:17 pm

Mao it is possible to support somethings the government does, for example medicaid or SNAP, while opposing others, such as warrant-less wiretapping.

360

Plume 01.21.14 at 8:17 pm

Also, Bruce Wilder 342,

Talk about generalities. It’s rather meaningless (and disingenuous) to toss out talk about “hierarchies” without acknowledging the proposed system to replace our current rule by the few over the many. Or, without defining what you mean by said hierarchies, or what you see as my view. Instead, you’ve just made empty accusations, repeated them, filled with insults and dismissals without foundation.

I’ve suggested full on, participatory democracy, as pushed by people like Chomsky, Harvey, Alperovitz and Wolff, among others; rotational representation, via lottery; local, community rule via “town hall” meetings/assemblies; regional and national reps also by lottery. Plus, four stages for vocations.

The above is very similar (in many ways) to the core offerings of the Occupy movement. They also preached a kind of horizontalism, to replace our indefensible and severe vertical rule.

Apprentice; senior apprentice; teacher; senior teacher . . . or some such designation. Same thing would apply to reps and civil servants. No more than 4-1, top to bottom wage ratio. One earns the progression to the next stage, similar to the idea of guilds. Artisanship, craft, serious skills and expertise, knowledge for the sake of knowledge, all seriously treasured.

Unlike our current system, and capitalism itself, the purpose of production would be to fill community needs, not the bank accounts of capitalists.

Ooooh, the horror!!! To actually make things we all need, and make citizens the sole focus of production, instead of the personal accumulation of wealth at the top.

How dare I suggest such an outrage against the holy and virtuous establishment!!!

361

bob mcmanus 01.21.14 at 8:24 pm

A Little Bit of Durkheim pdf

Social facts are not the simple development of psychic facts, but the second are in large part only the prolongation of the first in the interior of consciences. This proposition is very important, for the contrary point of view exposes the sociologist, at every moment, to mistaking the cause for the effect, and conversely.

362

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 8:24 pm

A list of who-called-who is the opposite of profiling. And censorship, WTF? Does it also give you the clap? Alright, never mind, forget it.

363

Plume 01.21.14 at 8:34 pm

Shorter version:

We seek to “flatten” the pyramids. Not to make them entirely “flat.” A practical, functional egalitarianism. As close as possible to the horizontal, while allowing plenty of room for progressions. The key being all voices allowed into the club and the club being a wall to wall Commons. All voices with equal weight. No extra weight given to those with money. No money. No profits. No hording and concentration and consolidation of power and wealth.

Again, ooooh, the horror!!

364

Consumatopia 01.21.14 at 8:37 pm

Alright, never mind, forget it.

I’m pretty sure it’s obvious to everyone else that a list of who-called-who is extremely useful for censorship and profiling. You could probably figure it out if you tried.

365

Sebastian H 01.21.14 at 8:40 pm

Sooo, anyone else notice that we are currently talking about who is leftier than left and which lefty is leftiest rather than the security state exposed by Snowden and reported on by the apparently not lefty enough Glen?

366

Niall McAuley 01.21.14 at 8:40 pm

Plume writes: We seek to “flatten” the pyramids.

You got a mouse in your pocket?

367

Bruce Wilder 01.21.14 at 8:44 pm

mattski @ 316 I confess, I thought D-K, too.

368

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 8:44 pm

The central difficulty of Capitalism is that it relies on an inadequate measure of social value, the monetary unit. Human happiness depends on properly balancing factors whose measure is both monetary and non-monetary. Because Capitalism renders dignity, security, trust, friendship, and social harmony invisible, it is distorting and destructive when unchecked. The advantages of hierarchies and market efficiencies can be preserved if the Capitalistic system is augmented with non-monetary measures of wealth. The emerging school of behavioral economics may eventually establish such measures. This is probably the best hope of taming the resurgent jungle capitalism that threatens world society and the global ecosystem

369

Mao Cheng Ji 01.21.14 at 8:51 pm

“…unnatural system …”

Seems kinda natural to me, a product of societal evolution. Is this, like, the Rousseau thing, the “natural man”?

370

William Timberman 01.21.14 at 8:57 pm

bob mcmanus @ 351

For me, the key phrase in your Durkheim quote is this: …are in large part…. The other, smaller part does exist, and is in fact crucial, in that it saves us from a secular predestination every bit as nasty as Cotton Mather’s theological one.

Thinkers of the Nineteenth Century spent a good deal of time and effort disabusing us of the idea that we’re any of us entirely the rational free agents who seemed to erupt from the Enlightenment like Athena from the brow of Zeus — and rightly so, I think. Still, the transformative agency of the individual, and its reciprocal influence on the collective is worthy of consideration, even if it considering it does introduce eddies in the smooth surfaces of our isms.

371

Plume 01.21.14 at 9:03 pm

Sebastion H 355,

But did Snowden really expose the Security State?

I worked for a long time in the Internet tech field. We knew all about the ability to do mass surveillance, and the interception of any and all mass communication. Networks are susceptible to this, and we’re pretty much all networked now. We assumed that it was all being intercepted. Which pissed off most of us immensely. I saw it as extremely anti-democratic, immoral, unethical, at the very least. Others saw it as useful and necessary.

But we knew it was happening.

Early in the Bush years, we had the revelations of mass spying, and then everyone should have known. Bush was reelected anyway, which was stunning. Obama has continued the Bush surveillance state and expanded it greatly, as technical advances have allowed. And more.

If it took Snowden’s revelations to finally get everyone to see what’s going on, then it was a positive thing. But the negative part was that it was done almost in the same sweeping “dragnet” style as the original surveillance. It included, along with the stuff everyone really needed to know, some cases wherein the surveillance was directed at actual “bad guys.” Not just from the usual point of view that if America is against it, the other folks must be the bad guys. That’s an ugly and dangerous supposition. I mean, objectively dangerous and violent actors.

I only wish he had been more circumspect, and that he had concentrated the focus on both the private and the public. It was weighted heavily toward the public.

372

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 9:04 pm

@353

This utopian fantasy ignores the natural distribution of human traits on a spectrum ranging from ruthless predation to saintly altruism. If we were all saints, we could do without laws and hierarchies, but short of bio-engineering ourselves into a better species, it is fatuous to believe that a simple commons with all voices given equal weight would eliminate the need for a large and powerful government.

The notion that a small band of wicked people is holding us all in bondage is a fairy tale that allows us to deny that meanness, pettiness, and irrationality exist in all of us to some degree. Our aim should be to correct the flaws and distortions in a complex hierarchical society, not to tear it all down and replace it with some kind of simplistic Great Leap Forward.

373

Plume 01.21.14 at 9:09 pm

Straightwood 362,

None of this assumes that we are all saints. None of my hypothetical even remotely assumes that. In fact, just the opposite.

It’s the capitalist system that assumes saintliness of business owners. That if they’re just set free to produce and sell what they want, all needs will be met and everyone will get along famously. Those “free markets” will run themselves (and police themselves) because everyone will “voluntarily” participate as workers and consumers and happily do the bidding of their beneficent masters.

My hypothetical assumes this is all bunk.

374

Plume 01.21.14 at 9:15 pm

As in, any and all transactions are always already mutually acceptable and beneficial.

This has been the official capitalist fairy tale going back to Smith, Ricardo, Steuart, Malthus and the rest of the classical political economist brigade.

See for instance, Michael Perelman’s The Invention of Capitalism.

http://libcom.org/library/invention-capitalism-michael-perelman

375

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 9:24 pm

“Sooo, anyone else notice that we are currently talking about who is leftier than left and which lefty is leftiest rather than the security state exposed by Snowden and reported on by the apparently not lefty enough Glen? “

Ok, whats the hypothetical defence of the NSA here. (1) Its inevitable that they’ll collect data at this level – so whats the resolution in this context, simply apply more oversight and prevent certain types of data capture ?
(2) It professionalises foreign policy and (theoretically) leads to less mistakes in FP design – and provides other opportunities for responding to threats short of military action. (This is where the drone program and targetted assasinations came from, after all, a desire not to wage full scale wars. If people are serious about a ‘law enforcement response’ to terrorsism then programs like this might be neccessary)
(3) This is what countries do. The domestic spying might be a problem but not the international spying. Are people oppossed to the domestic aspect or the whole lot?

What is the argument against the NSS? Are people arguing the US can do without an intelligence gathering apparatus ? If not then where is the cut off point?

376

Tyrone Slothrop 01.21.14 at 9:30 pm

@363: None of this assumes that we are all saints.

No, but it assumes we are all Plume.

377

Plume 01.21.14 at 9:43 pm

Tryrone 366,

No, it assumes that we will act in our own self interest, for the most part.

Now, tell me which system is more conducive to positive results based upon that?

Capitalism, which creates a natural, direct conflict and opposition between business owners (the few) and workers and consumers (the many), with the balance of power residing with the business owners. Owners make more the less they pay their workers, or outsource, or automate them out of existence . . .

Or

A system that all but eliminates that conflict by putting the ownership of the means of production in everyone’s hands? Everyone is the owner. There is no built in conflict.

If you assume people will act in their own best interests, which system would benefit the largest number of people?

In capitalism, the collective works on behalf of the few. Ownership (the few) collectivizes workers and consumers (the many), for ownership. They work and buy to make the few rich. In the system I suggest (that many others have suggested), the collective works on behalf of the collective. The purpose isn’t to make anyone rich, but to fill societal needs and adhere to the public good.

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Plume 01.21.14 at 9:51 pm

There is another assumption involved.

Over time, we humans adapt to new circumstances, change with the change in systems. We always have.

Over time, given a system that revolves around the needs of all citizens, instead of the 1%, with cooperative planning and implementation key, that “self-interest” begins to expand to include society overall. Our “moral compass” grows. Instead of being bombarded daily with calls to our individual wants and desires and their immediate satisfaction, we live in the absence of that brainwashing. There is no mass advertising campaign to get us to buy buy buy, just like everyone else. There is no mass advertising campaign that would push us to keep up with the Joneses.

Over time, the fairy tale of instant gratification fades, and the realization of social justice, cooperation (instead of competition), solidarity, the enjoyment of community and the desire to improve it replaces me mine me mine culture.

Peace.

379

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 10:12 pm

@374

This is vintage Marxist magical ennobling of the masses. Read Mike Davis’ “Planet of Slums” and you will see that the smallest property owners in Latin America’s super-slum cities will rent out the sidewalk in front of their shanty to someone even poorer. If you are a free-lance writer or web designer are you a “capitalist” because you run a small business?

People naturally exploit their economic advantages, no matter how slight they are. Fully centrally-planned economies don’t work well (outside of Red Plenty). Restoring the rule of law to our mixed economy, together with properly valuing non-monetary considerations in our regulatory framework, is the best path to reform.

380

Plume 01.21.14 at 10:23 pm

Straightwood 375,

I’m not suggesting a centrally-planned economy. Far from it. I’m suggesting a full on participatory democracy, including the economy. The focus would be on small is beautiful and local control — within the framework of a constitution fully emphasizing social justice, needs met, use-value and egalitarianism.

Now, I demonstrated the logic for doing this above, and have done so many times. Please defend the following, which you assert without any attempt to back it up logically, or rationally:

Restoring the rule of law to our mixed economy, together with properly valuing non-monetary considerations in our regulatory framework, is the best path to reform.

Why do you want to keep a system based upon and requiring economic apartheid to function? Why is it logical to seek reforms, rather than finding a system that doesn’t need those reforms you suggest in the first place?

I’ve used this analogy before. Capitalism is like cigarettes. Typically, liberals seek to minimize their damage by putting filters on those cigarettes. Conservatives say, hell no! Give us the straight nicotine fix without any filters!! Puts hair on your chest!!

Better idea. Get rid of the cigarettes altogether.

381

Michael Harris 01.21.14 at 10:23 pm

A system that all but eliminates that conflict by putting the ownership of the means of production in everyone’s hands? Everyone is the owner. There is no built in conflict.

Otherwise known as “Why siblings never fight”.

382

Plume 01.21.14 at 10:28 pm

Btw, in the system I (and others) propose, there is no unemployment. Anyone and everyone who wants to work gets a job. There is always work to be done and under the constitution, there can be no unemployment — unless someone chooses not to work at all. There can never be a case where more workers exist than jobs available.

Instead of leaving all of that up to the markets — meaning, the whims and desires of individual business owners — we proactively make sure everyone who wants to work can. We do that as a nation, together. The nation, together, owns the means of production.

The free education and training for life; the free health care for life; the free public transportation for life; and the free access to all cultural venues for life . . . along with the absence of profit and money will do away with your slum issue.

383

Brendan Taylor 01.21.14 at 10:31 pm

The only thing more boring than a radical earnestly explaining himself to people that aren’t interested is a liberal scoffing at him.

384

Plume 01.21.14 at 10:34 pm

Michael Harris 377,

Oh, there will be fights. But we will hash those out, debate, argue, debate some more and finally, vote. Majority rules. And even if it’s just 51% in favor of X, and they get their way, and 49% doesn’t . . . given the structure in place, a “loss” is hardly a loss. Far too many benefits already in place. And the above is certainly better than our current system which has the 1% rule — or the .01%.

It’s strange that so many liberals seem to be against collective ownership of the means of production, and fine with a tiny fraction owning it. Especially strange when they so often appear to get that this is wrong. They just refuse to follow the logic of their own critique.

I finally realized this, which is why I’m no longer a liberal.

385

Straightwood 01.21.14 at 10:50 pm

@384

You don’t seem to be acquainted with basic data on consumer activity. The glorious masses you are attempting to liberate LOVE cigarettes, alcohol, illicit drugs, pornography and gambling. Their favorite TV and film programming features gangsters beating and killing each other. About 14% of Americans are completely illiterate; 30% can’t understand the instructions on a bottle of pills. These are the people who will link arms and joyously march into your paradise of universal ownership of the means of production?

Without the sci-fi reengineering of homo sapiens, one cannot build a working society without concetrated power and hierarchical organization. Marxist fantasies of distributing the means of production democratically are absurd. Marx’s diagnosis of the ills of Capitalism was largely correct, but his remedies were grossly deficient. It remains our unfinished task to reform Capitalism. Your proposed replacement is an unsupported fantasy.

386

SoU 01.21.14 at 11:05 pm

@383 – very funny, quite true.

@ Plume -
i can tell you are energized by these discussions, but not every thread needs to descend into a debate re: the merits and faults of a participatory economics. save that for threads that are a bit more centered on the issue of capitalism vs. socialism, or what have you. I say this as someone who is likely more sympathetic to your views than 99% of humankind. still, there is little to be gained by these back and forth exchanges between you and whoever woke up this morning with a real bone to pick with the planned economy. i;ve seen enough of this basic format of a long somewhat off topic post from yourself, met by some snarky and tired critique from a detractor, to know that these micro debates are not going anywhere unless they are in the proper setting.

387

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 11:11 pm

Also looking at this from a number of years ago (2004 I think)

http://www.orgnet.com/tnet.html

theoretically I guess capturing metadata would make these aspects of intelligence work both more effective and less intrusive (afaik the other main alternative is to use informers, bugging etc and to give individual cops/intelligence agents more leeway – which in turn leads to corruption, unjust policies such ensnarment, etc – and targets specific communities in very intrusive ways. Wouldnt analysing data at this level lessen the need to do this ? )

The main opposition here seems to be towards the NSS as a totality ? But there’s no real conceivable way opposing to the ‘national security state’ is going to make any difference in any meaningful way. Or are there more specific programs ?

388

mattski 01.21.14 at 11:21 pm

Bruce @ 367

I want to buy you a quality beverage.

389

Tyrone Slothrop 01.21.14 at 11:28 pm

Plume is energized about these discussions – which is a good thing, IMO – and I am not snarking at his theory. It’s a societal construct with some interesting elements and it’s formed with wholly good intentions.

But the immediate and glaring contradiction is Plume’s insistence that everything is decided by a simple majority vote. Fine. Yet if that’s the case, Plume can have absolutely no idea and no confidence about either how those votes will turn out, or what issues, including radical changes, they are addressing. Without some measure of coercion and hierarchy in place, there can be no meaningful enforcement of the constitution, the sole lawful restraint against this pure democracy. Even if Plume could establish this society exactly as he wished, its form would slip from his control the second the first vote was taken.

390

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 11:33 pm

Well you’ve got to love someone who managed to wedge into a post on the NSA an argument in favour of workers cooperatives in Northen Spain

391

Ronan(rf) 01.21.14 at 11:37 pm

..although Ive seen noam chomskys head staring back at me in enough comments to last a lifetime, thank you very much

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Plume 01.21.14 at 11:39 pm

Well, I will put a bit of my own theory into practice. The majority at CT seems to be against further discussion on the topic, so I will exit stage left.

Here and there, the discussion has been enjoyable. Regardless, I wish you all good cheer in the NEW year.

Peace.

393

SoU 01.21.14 at 11:52 pm

@391
sorry, not trying to silence you, just noting that there will be a better time/thread for these issues to be raised

394

Matt 01.22.14 at 12:01 am

What is the argument against the NSS? Are people arguing the US can do without an intelligence gathering apparatus ? If not then where is the cut off point?

The NSS is too powerful. It has become an attractive nuisance. Keep enough warships and spies lying around and pretty soon you’ll be thinking of problem-solving in terms of war and spying.

I would heartily second Consumatopia’s recommendation to disband the NSA altogether. I’d also be ok with defunding all of its offensive operations and leaving it the sole mission of developing better security for modern communications and the technologies they rest on.

In reality, at best I might hope for some European-style data protection laws to prevent private companies from accumulating huge, potentially dangerous data sets that they might use for their own nefarious purposes or be required to hand over to a government for its nefarious purposes. I would also hope for fresh legal checks on the powers of the NSA and a rejection of secret courts. Even were these hopes fulfilled, I can only imagine that a new layer of even-more-secret exceptions would grow up eventually, so I would like to take the few years’ reprieve to aggressively build up security and surveillance resistance in the world’s most widely used communication protocols and technologies, so that when the spies get their legal powers back in secret they will still be hobbled trying to rebuild mass dragnet surveillance.

Now the Harry Potter solution:

If I could lay a handy Imperius Curse on the top echelons of the NSS and federal legislature for a year, I wouldn’t just bother to outlaw and defund every nefarious thing the NSS is currently up to. After the mind control was over the NSS would start growing back, perhaps via a new layer of super-DUPER secret laws that can ignore all the previous public and secret laws that were supposed to apply. Instead I would work to leave such a monument of shameful wreckage that people would fear to conspire against the public even 4 generations later. I’d do stuff like: name, shame, and prosecute to the maximum extent of the law everyone identifiable who enabled torture, warrantless wiretaps, assassination, falsehoods promoting wars of aggression, financial fraud, bribery, illegal environmental destruction, COINTELPRO, and about 100 other things to be attached in a later appendix. The classified archives of the State Department, CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, and DOD will be scanned to PDF — excluding only dangerous technical blueprint type information like “how to build modern nuclear warheads” — and they will be posted to the Pirate Bay. $10 billion of previously-CIA funding would endow a crowdsourcing initiative to track key figures mentioned in old documents and build wiki-style biographies tracking their current whereabouts and activities, linked with the shameful acts documented in secret archives, and updated for the rest of their lives, like a more advanced version of public sex offender registries — regardless of whether their actions were technically legal at the time.

This doesn’t mean I would stop at the US government if I were a Dark Wizard of such power. There would be analogous action for the leaders of the world’s most economically and militarily powerful nations, leaders of the Fortune 1000 and the largest privately held companies, and individual billionaires. The scorched earth combination of legal prosecution for past wrongdoing, plus exposure and shaming for things that might have been technically legal but abhorrent, would be applied to all of them. And that might give future generations of people pause when they’re asked to do something underhanded with the promise that their involvement will never be prosecuted or publicly known.

395

Sebastian H 01.22.14 at 12:31 am

We don’t have to deconstruct capitalism in order to be against the pants wetting security state. It doesn’t exist as a function of capitalism so we don’t need to solve all the problems of capitalism before we fight the security state. The security state is a function of wanting power and wanting to hold on to it. That desire exists in capitalist states, anti-capitalist states (see especially the most successful previous attempts, the USSR and Red China), and every known historical state in the world.

I especially don’t understand the complaints about Snowden failing to leak enough stuff about corporations. He didn’t HAVE info to leak about corporations. He wasn’t and isn’t some kind of magical info-god who could select from all the information in the world and then just decided to leak stuff about how the NSA was spying on us and lying about. That is the information he had. And when he saw it was bad for our democracy he did the good whistleblowing thing and told us about it. Thats it.

What we do with information now doesn’t really have much to do with him. We should protect him if we can, because we want other whistleblowers to come forward when we need them to. But this isn’t all about him. It is about the fact that the US government has gone totally crazy on the spying on its own people thing.

396

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 1:25 am

@Ronan(rf) the metadata is definitely not the worst alleged NSA overreach. Tapping into private companies is worse, subverting standards bodies and software companies to weaken public security is insane.

The surveillance of foreign heads of state isn’t so much a terrible loss of privacy (who cares about foreign heads of state?) as an indicator of out-of-control scale. Spying on Angela Merkel is a sensible use of time and money? And, yes, I do think “the NSS is too big” as an agenda could make a meaningful difference–both lefties and libertarians would sign on to that. Leaks over international spying can also be useful politics given that the fight over surveillance is an international struggle (surveillance being a product of international cooperation, i.e. the Five Eyes).

As to the metadata program, I think it’s enough to ask “do they need it? Can it be abused?” The answers seem to be “probably not” and “definitely yes”. Maybe stronger safeguards could change the second answer–although Dianne Feinstein has made clear that she opposes anything that would stop the NSA from using the database in unanticipated ways–in other words, she won’t accept a database that can’t be abused. This would be a major point of disagreement–they consider it very important that the mechanisms of surveillance are concealed. I don’t consider that very important–wiretapping telephones seems to be useful to the police even though everyone knows phones can be wiretapped, and avoiding known surveillance methods tends to impose costs on the people avoiding surveillance. I also consider public understanding of surveillance more important, and don’t have any confidence in either Congressional committees or the FISA court, at least not as they are currently composed.

But at a higher level, here’s a radical idea: the U.S. government should make it it’s policy to enable anonymous, untraceable communication for everyone in the world, by putting the same amount of resources they now do into surveillance into secure, anonymous technology and promoting its usage. This would complicate life for law enforcement, yes. (It wouldn’t necessarily make us less safe, though–our systems would be more secure against cyberwarfare). But it would complicate life much more for our rivals, the kind of countries that practice mass censorship. I don’t expect the US government to ever do this. But, apparently, some in the government think the way I do–why else would they keep giving money to TOR?

Even all that leaves the issue of corporate surveillance. I don’t blame blame Snowden or GG for the focus on government, but that focus is something we have to push against.

On another note, while I think what Snowden did was laudable, I don’t think it’s ethical to ask people to emulate him. Not because these leaks are intrinsically immoral, but because I don’t think it’s right to ask people to join the growing list of hacktivist martyrs. People shouldn’t join militaries or intelligence agencies unless they share the goals of those organizations. If someone joins and laters discovers specific activity that they ethically feels needs to be told to the public, they should, for their own sake, leak that and only that–hopefully after having first fled to someplace safer than Hong Kong. If we were in a situation in which the only reason the public remained silent is ignorance of what was being done in our name, I might give different advice, but so long as so much of the public is pro-NSS, it just isn’t worth it for lone wolves to sacrifice themselves kamikaze style to bring information to the public that the public largely ignores (currently proposed reforms being insufficient to justify sacrifice, in my view).

397

Peter T 01.22.14 at 2:28 am

To the outsider, more data looks, prima facie, to be a good thing for intelligence. To many insiders, it’s an obsession. But, often, it’s not a good thing at all. Because the real world is noisy, people are closely connected, data is never clean – so more data can be more confusing unless the specifics of the data have been carefully assessed, and the interactions tested.

An example might be that the Iranian middle and upper classes are basically all cousins, mostly called either Ali, Hossein or Reza – so the metadata will be a large ball of closely tangled connectivity, and so useless for purposes of discrimination; investigators will then seize on perfectly typical patterns to make cases against whomever they suspect at the moment. This would seem to be the case with a good deal of US “anti-terrorist successes”.

Similarly, the case for spying on foreign heads of state (“more data!”) has to be weighed against the consequences of disclosure, or even heightened suspicion. The US depends on its partners for a lot of intelligence, so bugging Merkel was not sensible even in terms of immediate intelligence interests.

As I said before, there seems to be no-one at the top who understands how the machines work and is balancing insider drives against the larger picture.

398

Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 2:48 am

Peter T

Are the large scale data captures pretty much useless in operational terms? So what would you see as the best way of approaching intelligence work on national security threats(leaving aside the privacy issues and domestic spying for a minute) – in this context primarily transnational terrorists, gangs etc * (rather than the threats posed by states which I assume could mostly be done through open source info) ? Is human based intelligence still the best option?

* part of this I guess is what they want to use it for. Is it to try and discover criminal networks by analysing call patterns (or what have you) or to have information on hand so they can build a case against someone after the fact? You’re thinking it’s just an internal bureaucratic maneuver without much thought and in the absence of competent leaderhip ?

Sorry for all the questions, its complicated and Im trying to get my head around it.

399

Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 2:52 am

Consumatopia & Matt

I largely agree, from what I know about it (though I dont know the domestic politics in the US so well)

400

Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 3:05 am

btw Matt, I was largely agreeing up until the harry potter solution. After which I was in complete agreement

401

bianca steele 01.22.14 at 3:09 am

Brian Dell @ 351

I was a high school senior and visiting MIT on the day aspartame was approved. The campus papers did not.

402

Anarcissie 01.22.14 at 3:23 am

Telephone metadata can be used to build social maps, that is, graphs where the nodes are persons (with certain attributes) and the edges (lines between them) can show connection and be weighted in various ways. Such maps have many uses.

For example, suppose the node Alice A. is connected at not too many steps (two or three, say) from Bob B., Charlie C., and Doreen D., and you know that Bob, Charlie, and Doreen are actively involved in a particular political project or group. Without knowing any more about Alice whatever, the possessors of the graph can be pretty sure Alice is also involved or sympathetic and that there is a good probability that Alice is a channel of communication between the activists. Should they wish to inhibit or obstruct the activists, removing or harassing Alice may be a reasonable strategy even if it happens to be incorrect in this individual case.

Not only the government may use this data. Since even government officials may sometimes exhibit less than exemplary morals and behavior, it is quite possible such information might be transmitted to a corporation, mafia, or favored foreign power which was being inconvenienced by the activists.

403

Sancho 01.22.14 at 3:52 am

Charlie Wilson’s War was great fun.

404

Neil M 01.22.14 at 5:17 am

Just to clarify one particular thing – Greenwald is *not* a libertarian, at all.

He has covered this a couple of times in detail, after one or another articles has been published referring to him as such. I can’t actually find them at the moment, but they should be on his ‘utdocuments’ blog that he’s been updating while between gigs.

From what I remember, he was more of a libertarian in his youth, but these days he understands how important a strong government is in minimising the damage to society inevitably wreaked by the worst aspects of capitalism. He supports a welfare state, he definitely supports single-payer healthcare.

He really gets upset when people just assume he’s some extremist goldbug.

Being a first-amendment absolutist and wanting to halt the NSA’s excesses doesn’t magically make him Ayn Rand.

405

fivegreenleafs 01.22.14 at 5:40 am

Bruce Schneier argues, that to rationally evaluate a security decision, your first requirement is to identify the trade-off, i.e. what you are sacrificing, and its costs.

This is (obviously) the complete reverse to how the question (and argument) is usually framed, and I think the discussion suffers badly from it.

406

Peter T 01.22.14 at 9:30 am

“suppose the node Alice A. is connected at not too many steps (two or three, say) from Bob B., Charlie C., and Doreen D., and you know that Bob, Charlie, and Doreen are actively involved in a particular political project or group. Without knowing any more about Alice whatever, the possessors of the graph can be pretty sure Alice is also involved or sympathetic and that there is a good probability that Alice is a channel of communication between the activists.”

IF Alice were only one step away from Bob and co, then it’s still possible that she’s a mutual friend or relative, or connected through some unrelated activity (they all found each other and the political light through ballroom dancing, and Alice is the local paso doble expert). Two or three steps, and the probability is that she’s pretty much anyone at all. Seven steps and she is all 7 billion of us. Unlike military units, which basically communicate in military mode all the time, political activists have friends, family and other interests – and join and leave groups constantly. So communications analysis of what are fairly ordinary people is pretty time-intensive. It’s much better kept for confirming and enlarging the intelligence picture produced by other sources. If you use it as a first source, then there is a high risk that you will alienate the people that are your best sources of good intelligence.

As 404 notes, you have to think of the trade-offs, and they are often quite subtle, long-term and outside the purview of the investigator or analyst on the ground. That’s where skilled top management comes in.

407

Peter T 01.22.14 at 10:42 am

Mao – yes. But that is something you do AFTER you have identified the suspects, so requiring a for warrant or other oversight process is perfectly reasonable (also because even then, eliminating the random associations is a lot of careful work, with a significant resource bill attached). That’s not what NSA is doing – it seems to think it can identify suspects just from association if it has enough data. Rarely it will; more often it will produce multiple weak leads, and active pursuit of these will foul up better, more reliable sources. The first rules in the game are to constantly remember that your enemies are few and the neutrality of their community your major resource.

408

hix 01.22.14 at 11:04 am

For me, the main issues Snowden, Manning, Assagne or Greenwald are working against are wrong on a much deaper level than any neoliberal economic program short of outright social darwinism could ever be. So i find it highly disturbing to have a debate about purity of allies in this dull 2 party hate game in the first place when the issue is so critical. Besides that, i dont see how the leakers political leanings, personal motivations etc. would make the leaks any less relevant. Why do people who did a great service to the public at sometimes gigantic personal cost have to be pure altruistic saints, while powerfull/rich assholes are legitimate by default in every shit they do?

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Cranky Observer 01.22.14 at 12:31 pm

= = = Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 10:06 am
“friend or relative, or connected through some unrelated activity”
Yes, but if you know 2 or 3 suspected terrorists (or activists, if you wish) from different cells, and if you cross-reference their first/second-level networks, then you might just find the leader of the higher level. It seems pretty trivial. = = =

Presumably that is how the Department of Homeland Security identified the leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement in order to target them during the DHS-coordinated raids that smashed the Occupy movement.

Problem is, Occupy was engaging in Constitutionally protected protest and petition activities; their “crime” was to make the 1% very uncomfortable. So in your scenario what was the justification for DHS to use data collected by the organs of state security (since in retrospect it is pretty clear that they did use such data in their planning) in their raid planning? Data collected in violation of numerous laws and Constitutional provisions under claimed “national security” exemptions, but used for political purposes?

Cranky

410

Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 12:37 pm

Peter,
your recent first level to/from connections G-men can get from the phone company (with a warrant) already; they don’t the database for that. And the second-level connections must be in tens of thousands, so it’s useless, like you said. Therefore, the way I see it, the main value of this database must be (apart from longer retention) the possibility of cross-reference.

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Andrew F. 01.22.14 at 12:45 pm

Wilentz begins by referencing Hofstadter’s description of a paranoid style in American politics. Viewed with that lens in mind, Wilentz’s article is strong, though I agree that the argument could be ground to a finer edge.

By “paranoid style,” Hofstadter means a style of mind that is far from new and that is not necessarily right-wing. I call it the paranoid style simply because no other word adequately evokes the sense of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy that I have in mind. Harper’s. He also notes that while the term is pejorative, nothing really prevents a sound program or demand from being advocated in the paranoid style. Id.

All three of the persons Wilentz examines engage, regularly, in rhetoric that meets the standard for paranoid style. What Wilentz attempts to collect in his article is evidence that all three are opposed to the institutional concentration of power that is necessary for the liberal state to function effectively.

In portraying the US as out of control, as a state flashing the frightening signs of an incipient totalitarianism, these three weaken the public trust in political institutions that is necessary for the modern liberal state to implement desired regulatory policies. Moreover, this portrayal is of a piece with their other political views. They wish to severely curtail the Federal Reserve; the law-making power of Congress; the regulatory power of administrative agencies; the law enforcement, military, and intelligence powers of the Executive; the involvement of the US in so many different areas of the world.

Described so vaguely, many liberals might agree with many of those goals. However the rhetoric and arguments used betoken a much more radical agenda; and to the extent the rhetoric and types of arguments used are not challenged, and are instead accepted, that radical agenda becomes more publicly acceptable.

For example, it’s one thing to argue: “hey, these decisions by the FISC are quite significant legally, and it may be better for us, as a democracy, for novel legal interpretations of significance to be publicly available.” It’s quite another to argue: “these programs are simply means of social control, all rubber-stamped by near-corrupt judges who have bought into the idea, and all being used by the highest levels of government not to counter terrorism but for political and economic ends.”

The first argument takes as a premise that our institutions are not corrupt, and that we can tailor certain programs or laws while leaving the institutions more or less in place as they are. The second argument implies something much more sinister: our institutions are already corrupt, and we can’t do some tailoring, but rather need to radically “reshape” these corrupted and corruption-prone institutions.

And Ron Paul and his acolytes are well prepared for the premises of the second argument to unfold in reality. His financial disclosures indicate a man who fully expects, and indeed has invested heavily in, the current system collapsing.

The media’s “one view, and the other view” style of reporting can make it harder to quickly parse out what is worthy in justifications and arguments from Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange, and what is not, because one is constantly fighting against an assumed narrative of “the NSA vs. Greenwald/Snowden/Assange.” However one can reject much, if not most, of what the latter three are doing, while still favoring significant reforms of some of the NSA’s programs and the manner in which they are overseen and regulated.

By pointing out the implications of the rhetoric and arguments used by the three, Wilentz, I think, hopes to better enable principled stands on the NSA’s programs while avoiding the premises and rhetoric that belong to a much more radical agenda.

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 12:55 pm

Cranky, if you can’t trust the government under any circumstances (even with the warrants, as Obama proposes now), then it’s clear and understandable that you don’t want this database, or, for that matter, any other government database. If that’s the case, then the NRA, for example, is being perfectly reasonable resisting gun registration. But then, this doesn’t sound like the attitude of a proponent of benevolent liberal welfare state. So, maybe you aren’t.

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Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 12:57 pm

From what Ive seen a lot of this bottom up network analysis is now also being used by the US (and Irish from what Ive heard) police

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3022154/using-social-networks-to-track-and-predict-gun-violence

Which, I guess, is also better as it incentivises investing in specialist knowledge in the force and building relationships in the community, to a degree that top down analysis of large data sets doesnt. But are the NSA doing the top down analysis at the minute? Rather than just collecting data *for when they might need it*, or for finding ways around having to apply for warrants etc.
Relatedly, theres a case in a US court at the minute (iirc) where it’s being claimed the DEA are running high level informers in some of the Mexican drug cartels and have been indirectly implicated in drug trafficking in the US (with shades of the Contra affair again) So this type of intelligence work, it seems, isnt without its downsides.

Isnt the large scale data capture just something they’ve done because they can, or is there evidence they’re utilising it in intel work in any meaningful way at the minute?

Consumatopia – “The surveillance of foreign heads of state isn’t so much a terrible loss of privacy (who cares about foreign heads of state?) as an indicator of out-of-control scale. Spying on Angela Merkel is a sensible use of time and money?”

I agree that the outrage is largely a matter of political aesthetics, but I dont really see the point of spying on trade missions etc. Most of the information you get could surely be arrived at through careful analysis of information already public. If they dont need to do it (which Im guessing they dont) I dont see why they wont end up just resolving the problem through agreements among allies not to spy directly on eachother.

Consumatopia – “the metadata is definitely not the worst alleged NSA overreach. Tapping into private companies is worse, subverting standards bodies and software companies to weaken public security is insane. “

Are these not one of the same thing though?

414

Manta 01.22.14 at 12:59 pm

I would like to live in Andrew’s universe, when Edgar Hoover was never head of FBI and NSA aim is to fight terrorism.

415

Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 1:23 pm

Me – “(with shades of the Contra affair again)”

The Gary Webb drug smuggling aspects, obvs.
Although Max Fisher disputes it by arguing against a strawman:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/01/14/is-the-u-s-secretly-backing-a-mexican-drug-cartel-probably-not/

Which is par for course with Fisher, but anyway .. (this isnt really here nor there)

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Andrew F. 01.22.14 at 1:24 pm

Manta, I live in the universe where Hoover died over 60 years and several iterations of important reforms ago.

417

Salem 01.22.14 at 1:31 pm

Actually, Hoover was head of the FBI until 1972.

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Andrew F. 01.22.14 at 1:33 pm

40 years ago, thanks Salem

419

Layman 01.22.14 at 1:36 pm

Mao @ 350

You ask why I don’t trust the NSA. I say it’s because of something they’re doing. You suggest that they might do something else in the future, and ask again why I don’t trust them. Really?

As to the proposed ‘reforms’, they’re pretty weak. Basically they’ll go on collecting what they’re collecting, but they promise that sometimes they’ll secretly ask a secret important person before they look at it. I’ve never seen any real evidence that they could not treat these matters like any other law enforcement exercise, and go to a Federal judge for a conventional warrant. Are you aware of any case where that would not have served?

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Manta 01.22.14 at 1:37 pm

Andrew, the result of those “important reforms” was Scott Ritter.

At the end of the day, Hoover was a cog in the machine: the machine is still there, doing the things it was built to do.

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fivegreenleafs 01.22.14 at 1:43 pm

@Mao

Therefore, the way I see it, the main value of this database must be (apart from longer retention) the possibility of cross-reference.

I would not take for granted, a priori, that the dragnet databases have a significant value, at least not in regard to security as presented as reasons for their existence. They might have many other perceived “values” though, but that is a somewhat different matter.

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Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 1:52 pm

Mao – “if you can’t trust the government under any circumstances (even with the warrants, as Obama proposes now), then it’s clear and understandable that you don’t want this database, or, for that matter, any other government database. If that’s the case, then the NRA, for example, is being perfectly reasonable resisting gun registration. But then, this doesn’t sound like the attitude of a proponent of benevolent liberal welfare state. So, maybe you aren’t.”

I agree that a *completly* paranoid view of the NSS isnt compatible with supporting a strong state in general. Most liberals *dont* have such an opinion of the NSS though, which is why you’ve been running with a strawman throughout this thread on this topic. (not saying whether this is Cranky’s position or not, but in general)

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Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 1:57 pm

Fair enough, Layman. But that’s exactly what I was saying: there are conditions under which a liberal will find this program acceptable. But not a libertarian. So, conventional warrant is your threshold. So, you passed the test, for being a liberal. There is no real reason for you to denounce this program as a new hitler, and, after scanning the thread, I see that you haven’t. Everything is fine.

424

Manta 01.22.14 at 2:01 pm

Matt@394:
giving the NSA the mission “of developing better security for modern communications and the technologies they rest on” is like giving a fox the mission of guarding the hens, since one of NSA actual accomplishments is to make modern communications LESS secure.

425

Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 2:05 pm

Ronan, I said, in 87 “I understand why libertarians don’t like mass state surveillance, but it’s not so obvious to me why liberals are against it, especially the NSA-metadata kind.” and I got some irritated replies, including from you. This is how it started.

You could’ve said, from the beginning: I don’t have a problem with mass state surveillance, as long as it has strong safeguards and meaningful oversight. And that would’ve been the end of it.

426

Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 2:16 pm

“And that would’ve been the end of it.”

I doubt it. You would have looked for a response from every ‘liberal’.
It was said continually that there’s a huge area between oppossing it in it’s entirety and supporting it, where a liberal could place themselves (and at either extreme). A liberal could also oppose it entirely – say its a waste of resources, rests on exaggerated threats, worry about long term consequences, have somewhat complex views on how much secrecy the state should work under etc
A liberal could probably not oppose it on the grounds ‘OMG we’re marching towards tyranny !’ But who is ?

427

Manta 01.22.14 at 2:23 pm

The question is fairly basic: can we trust the government to do the “right” thing when it works in secret and without accountability?

My answer is “Yes, you can. If you are an idiot.”

428

Mao Cheng Ji 01.22.14 at 2:29 pm

” You would have looked for a response from every ‘liberal’.”

Well, when people reply and want to argue, it’s rude to ignore them. Unless they are trolls, of course.

429

Kaveh 01.22.14 at 3:02 pm

AndrewF @411

This, just… wow:

In portraying the US as out of control, as a state flashing the frightening signs of an incipient totalitarianism, these three weaken the public trust in political institutions that is necessary for the modern liberal state to implement desired regulatory policies. Moreover, this portrayal is of a piece with their other political views. They wish to severely curtail the Federal Reserve; the law-making power of Congress; the regulatory power of administrative agencies; the law enforcement, military, and intelligence powers of the Executive; the involvement of the US in so many different areas of the world.

“Involvement of the US in so many different areas of the world”? Seriously? (You mean like Fallujah?) If Willentz thinks that undermining out-of-control GWOT policies, drone strikes against countries the US is not at war with & extrajudicial assassinations (say, did you hear about that lovely wedding party in Yemen?), and all the rest, are dangerously undermining confidence in state institutions, and their real goal is actually to ruin the Fed, then Willentz is the one that’s paranoid.

430

Kaveh 01.22.14 at 3:02 pm

Ugh. The second paragraph not supposed to be in the block quote.

431

Anarcissie 01.22.14 at 3:22 pm

Peter T 01.22.14 at 9:30 am @ 406, 407 — I am not thinking of criminal investigations or juridical procedures, but political influence and control. If what Bob, Charlie and Doreen are doing is undesirable to the possessors of the social map, they don’t need to prove that Alice is doing something wrong to weaken the structure she may be a part of; they just need to remove her and people like her. That could be done by means of a criminal investigation, arrest, trial, and so forth, but it could be done in many other less laborious ways, especially if the social map had passed to parties less restrained by law and regulation than the ostensible government. Alice could mysteriously lose her job. have an accident, get sick, etc.

If one did want to use investigation and trial as a means of dealing with Alice and her connections, however, a good social map would definitely help in pointing out primary targets which might not otherwise be noticed. I’m assuming that the connections (edges) of the graph are not simple but contain relevant information, for example the telephone records would include number of calls, time of day when they were made, and length of the call, which could tell an investigator quite a bit, especially when they could be related to other events. I am familiar with this sort of thing from having worked in the Compliance department of a major exchange; part of my job was to discover hidden, often illegal relations between trading parties. These are usually smart people who know enough to pass signals through apparently unrelated intermediaries.

Knowledge is power, is it not?

432

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 3:51 pm

Yes, a liberal can look at a particular component of the government and say it should be completely dismantled without wanting the entire government or “the liberal state” overthrown. If our government had a Censorship Bureau, I would oppose that entire bureau as corrupt and illegitimate.

A liberal can say that while tracking weapons is a legitimate activity for government, monitoring private communications is not.

Liberals invoke principal agent problems when resisting covert action or classified activity. Libertarians instead invoke public choice theory–they don’t even trust publicly discussed and monitored government activity.

433

Manta 01.22.14 at 4:23 pm

Consumatopia, I think there is a contradiction in your position: first you say that (I assume, as a liberal) you would oppose a Censorship Bureau no matter what (even if it is publicly discussed and monitored).

Then you say that such opposition is libertarian.

(Mind you: I agree with the opposition, but I don’t think it is a “liberal” thing. E.g., if I understood it correctly, I think that some of the CT posters approve of such censorship laws in their respective countries)

434

Steve Newcomb 01.22.14 at 4:33 pm

Instead of invading Iraq, we could have clarified its social ocean with information technology, revealing Saddam’s submarines, his instruments of tyranny. It would have been a matter of inundating the place with satellite phones and satellites/drones overhead, and good editorial selection of what to send back down as TV broadcasts. It would not have been easy, but we could have done it, saved many lives, given the Iraqis much better preparation for self-rule. It would have been an empowerment of Iraq’s people, overbalancing the tyranny of Saddam. Alas, we instead focused on spending taxpayer dollars on a military operation that began with expensive and violent shock and awe, with the privately-acknowledged purpose of acquiring beneficial access to Iraq’s oil for self-described “American” interests.

Now the reverse has happened. An ocean-clarifying set of technologies has been unleashed, extra-legally, on the American public, not with a view to empowering it to support the rule of law, but instead to maintain the power of those in power. (If you think that’s not true, consider the DEA’s “parallel construction” of prosecutions that actually rested on illegally-obtained NSA data. Curiously, the President’s panel somehow found no evidence of any such abuse. Maybe it’s because the actual abuse occurred at the DEA, a whole different part of the Executive Branch. A part that, unlike the NSA, uses guns in its daily operations.) So now, all the people’s submarines are now plainly visible, but only to the American government, while the American government’s instruments of enforcement remain largely invisible, even to the people it is supposed to serve.

It’s probably not a coincidence that both of these acts are easily understood as those of a paranoid hegemon, and that neither act even remotely reflects a goal of liberty and justice for all.

435

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 4:48 pm

A Censorship Bureau, by it’s very nature, mutes public discussion and monitoring to some extent.

I’m not saying that the only reasons liberals might oppose government activity are principal agent problems. However, I don’t think my opposition to a Censorship Bureau has anything to do with public choice theory, and therefore isn’t like libertarian opposition. I think in some cases, it would make sense for the government to prohibit private censorship–(e.g. net neutrality)–in which case, the very same motivations that lead me to oppose one kind of government activity leads me to support another.

There might even be a contingent of market fundamentalists who would be okay with censorship because, hey, all human “reason” is just rationalization, amirite? (As long as the government doesn’t interfere with the price system, we have all the freedom we need.)

Liberal isn’t the same as left, no doubt lots of CT posters refuse to call themselves liberals. Even some of those calling themselves liberal might favor censorship, but certainly my opposition to it doesn’t mean that I “oppose the liberal state”.

436

Andrew F. 01.22.14 at 5:30 pm

Manta @427: The question is fairly basic: can we trust the government to do the “right” thing when it works in secret and without accountability?

My answer is “Yes, you can. If you are an idiot.”

Sure Manta, but there isn’t just “the government” really, no? There are different branches of government, different parts of each branch, different political parties that overlap the branches, and different individuals filling (or not, depending on how silly Congress is being) the various positions and offices.

Accountability and oversight don’t necessarily require publication in a newspaper. The Administration made information about the metadata program available to every Senator, requested that it be made available to every Representative, briefed the intel oversight committees, and obviously obtained numerous court orders from 15 or so different judges.

Now, that’s not quite publication in a newspaper, but that’s just about as close as you can come to keeping a program confidential while enabling as much transparency and oversight as possible.

The transparency and oversight weaknesses in these programs as implemented in different forms just after 9/11 were largely fixed in later amendments. Those fixes were achieved by working within political institutions, and – in the best tradition of American governance (and there are lots of bad ones) – the repairs balanced the efficacy of the means with checks against the abuse of those means.

The paranoid-libertarian solution by contrast is to assume that there is no institutional way to guard against abuse, because institutions are corrupt and there’s a conspiracy of politicians who are power/wealth hungry and… well, you get the point.

James Madison was correct when he said that if men were angels, there would be no need for government. But of course, if they’re all devils, no good government would be possible. Madison viewed human beings as mixed, and argued for a government that restrains itself, by dividing power amongst its different parts appropriately to that purpose.

That is actually a practical approach to government. It leaves room for a range of policies and constructive arguments. Paranoid libertarianism, though, believes that approach to be impossible; freedom from tyranny rests in a well armed population of private citizens, not voting and rule of law; fiat currencies are necessarily less trustworthy than gold; you must always be ready for the collapse of society.

In some ways, it’s amusing to see libertarians fulminating against the silly fears of law enforcement and intelligence agencies; the libertarians have a more fearful outlook on life than most in those lines of work ever will. And that’s remarkable.

437

Manta 01.22.14 at 6:07 pm

Andrew, your explanation of how government works in secret is a very good one.
It has nothing to do with reality, of course (as we see every single time the veil of secrecy is lifted).
But it’s very good nevertheless.
And I am sure this time is different, and all those safeguards are really working.

438

Sebastian H 01.22.14 at 6:35 pm

“You could’ve said, from the beginning: I don’t have a problem with mass state surveillance, as long as it has strong safeguards and meaningful oversight. And that would’ve been the end of it.”

It wouldn’t have been the end of it, but as to substance: wise benevolent dictators would be better for society than democracy if they were wise enough and sufficiently benevolent. But they aren’t so most people wisely oppose dictatorships.

Part of the problem is that we’ve set up such silly binaries that the discussion gets muddled in stupid definitional games. Libertarians aren’t monsters and they aren’t even generally anarchists, they are people who-on the continuum of legitimate government power– have a very low threshold for what they believe the government can be trusted to do. And by trusted to do, they mean trusted to do without opening up way too much corruption and trampling on personal rights. They are not generally anti liberal, they have a much lower threshold for government tolerance than many.

By overdrawing the libertarian ‘enemy’ we see overreaction in the definition of liberal. Liberals have a much higher threshold for government activity than libertarians. They generally believe that the government can do quite a bit more before they invite lots of corruption and counter productive trampling on personal rights. That doesn’t make them anti libertarians. That doesn’t mean they believe ALL powers if given to the government can be controlled to avoid corruption and counter productive behavior. Their threshold is just higher.

And that is why some libertarians and some liberals could work together to curb the national pants wetting security state. They can agree that whatever their differences in understanding the threshold level of power the government can be trusted with, this exceeds that threshold.

439

Joseph Ratliff 01.22.14 at 6:43 pm

Snowden and Greenwald shared documents with the world, from inside the offices of the NSA (digitally)… which started what is probably one of the most important discussions in our recent history.

The NSA documents themselves do not have a political position, they reveal the information needed to identify and fix the problem (as long as that will take). I haven’t personally seen Snowden come out in public and push any agenda outside of his releasing the documents and explaining them (except for answering critics).

It seems to be a “here’s the information, you make a decision” approach.

So, because this is about what is on those NSA documents, I’m curious how his profile is even relevant (or how relevant it is) to the surveillance discussion?

440

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 7:10 pm

Accountability and oversight don’t necessarily require publication in a newspaper.

Maybe not in principle, but in practice we’ve never come up with a set of institutions that don’t tend to be abusive when we aren’t able to publicly evaluate their results. The committees and courts have (theoretical) oversight over intelligence work, but their work is secret too so it moves the verification problem up one direction, but doesn’t solve the problem.

I mean, sure, classified oversight is better than nothing (well, probably better than nothing. The intelligence committee chairs always seem to be the loudest pro-spying voices.) but not very much better.

When the government can keep its actions secret, it becomes dangerous. That doesn’t mean the government should never act in secret, it does mean that it should do so only rarely. This is not an illiberal position–liberal government is transparent.

@Sebastian H

Part of the problem is that we’ve set up such silly binaries that the discussion gets muddled in stupid definitional games.

The definitional games are so stupid in this case because we have a couple of people who probably aren’t even liberals using a definition of liberalism that is actually the opposite of liberalism.

441

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 7:16 pm

me:

the metadata is definitely not the worst alleged NSA overreach. Tapping into private companies is worse, subverting standards bodies and software companies to weaken public security is insane.

Ronan(rf) :

Are these not one of the same thing though?

No, those are three different kinds of things. One requires the companies to hand over the data. The second takes advantages of existing weaknesses in corporate information. The third actually inserts new weaknesses into corporate products. The third is most dangerous because knowledge of those weaknesses could fall into the hands of our enemies, or be re-discovered by them.

442

MPAVictoria 01.22.14 at 7:18 pm

“Libertarians aren’t monsters”

Welllll…. Some of them are moral monsters. I mean anyone willing to take the food out of a six year old’s mouth because “taxes are theft” isn’t going to be on the side of the angels right?

Which is why I am nervous about working with libertarians on the few matters that we do agree on. Who knows what kind of Frankenstein monster we might create to run a mok in the body politic.

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roy belmont 01.22.14 at 7:20 pm

Part of the problem may be that negative judgment is coming toward these secret agents from a public base in the present, but their secret mandate is coming toward them from a projected base in the future via hidden channels in the present.
So the preservation of status quo ante, which is the primary valence of critical public animosity toward them, has very little to do with their actual tasks, which are being assigned in private, and with regard to the future..
They’re setting up things for Big Events which aren’t here yet, in expectation the benefits will accrue to their higher-ups, or “masters”.
People are yelling at and about the NSA as if it’s the one doing all that, autonomously – sort of like yelling at the armored cops at the protest – yeah they’re doing it, but they’re not, really. They’re being told to do these things, as is Congress and the Executive, and almost none of the criticism, the complaint, and the reaction is directed toward that directorial “them”. These are not policy decisions, they’re tactical, strategic.
The center of power in that dynamic is not a public thing. Yet most of the arguing is as if it were. Which seems futile, but is pretty entertaining at the same time.

“Dude! Where’s my privacy?”

Only, the kids. And the world as it yet could be.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.22.14 at 7:25 pm

This discussion thread exhibits that the dominant ideas of a society ruled by financiers will be libertarianism, like it or not.

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Anarcissie 01.22.14 at 8:09 pm

Consumatopia 01.22.14 at 7:16 pm @ 439:
‘… The third is most dangerous because knowledge of those weaknesses could fall into the hands of our enemies.’

‘We have met the enemy, and….’

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Anarcissie 01.22.14 at 8:24 pm

MPAVictoria 01.22.14 at 7:18 pm @ 440:
‘ “Libertarians aren’t monsters”

Welllll…. Some of them are moral monsters. I mean anyone willing to take the food out of a six year old’s mouth because “taxes are theft” isn’t going to be on the side of the angels right? …’

The ones I have argued with over the years don’t think they are advocating that. The nearer libertarians generally concede some degree Welfare is necessary, at least in the present. The further libertarians envision a world which is nothing like what you see around you — hence, anything can be said about it, such as that charity and other voluntary activities would take the place of Welfare. If you’re dealing with a fantasy, you can take it on its own terms or envision an alternative fantasy, but there is no reasonable way of arguing with the fantasy from present material circumstances because they are constructed on different principles.

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MPAVictoria 01.22.14 at 8:41 pm

“The ones I have argued with over the years don’t think they are advocating that.”
Really? Maybe you have been arguing with a much better class of libertarian(in the American sense of the term) than I have but all the ones I have talked to want to slash the social safety net and watch the moochers starve.

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Andrew F. 01.22.14 at 9:04 pm

Sebastian: Libertarians aren’t monsters and they aren’t even generally anarchists, they are people who-on the continuum of legitimate government power– have a very low threshold for what they believe the government can be trusted to do. And by trusted to do, they mean trusted to do without opening up way too much corruption and trampling on personal rights.

I think your description of libertarianism is too narrow.

A libertarian could believe: Government X, with structure Y, will act within the scope of its authority to e.g. collect and use metadata. However, Government X has not been and could not legitimately be granted the power to do so.

Granted, the loudest libertarians are often the more paranoid. And it’s easy to forget how paranoid some of them are. Like many people, they can talk quite calmly and rationally about numerous topics – and then casually mention that they’re 100% invested in gold because the Fed/Wall St./liberal welfare state/anti-constitutionalist/whatever cabal is going to fall any day now.

But libertarianism doesn’t require radical distrust of government institutions.

For me, much of this goes back to the importance of the debate in the early 20th century as to the role of government in providing for forms of liberty, security, and opportunity. Herbert Croly and others pointed out that, in the modern economy, a powerful, robust set of government institutions is more conducive to desired values and modes of life than a small, weakened set of government institutions. If you have a radical distrust of government institutions, and buy into much of the rhetoric emanating from the Assange/Snowden/Greenwald supporters, then you’ll likely be unable to endorse certain core insights of Croly and other progressives – and that’s really problematic given the particular challenges we face today as a society.

Consumatopia: Maybe not in principle, but in practice we’ve never come up with a set of institutions that don’t tend to be abusive when we aren’t able to publicly evaluate their results. The committees and courts have (theoretical) oversight over intelligence work, but their work is secret too so it moves the verification problem up one direction, but doesn’t solve the problem.

Since FISA was passed in 1978, there have (to the best of my knowledge) not been any instances in which the NSA as an institution abused its powers to provide any politician with advantages over other politicians, to enable the suppression of First Amendment protected expression, or to otherwise intrude into anything that would fall into an American’s reasonable expectation of privacy as described in law. Indeed, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, NSA was incredibly scrupulous about avoiding domestic surveillance.

So that’s a pretty good example.

As to accountability, if we can’t rely on a review by the entire Senate, the entire House (intended by the Administration), and multiple federal judges to determine whether an intelligence program is legal/illegal…

Look, I agree with a bias towards transparency. But we have a representative democracy, and we rely on confidential government proceedings all the time. By including a diversity of interests and persons in those proceedings, and ensuring that some of those persons are independent of the authority of one another, and that some even have competing interests, we achieve substantially the same check on power as accomplished by full public disclosure.

I don’t think we should be designing all policy, particularly policy that depends on secrecy to be effective, with the idea that even if the legislature, the executive, and the courts are ALL corrupt, it will still be possible for the public to (somehow) stop the policy by virtue of their knowledge. This is close to “we need guns to keep our liberties” territory. Instead I think we should be designing policies that make it very difficult for all those branches and parts to become corrupt by allowing separate parts and branches to check, and be exposed to, each other.

Don’t misunderstand me: public disclosure of government activities is vital to a democracy. But it’s reasonable for certain policies, which depend on secrecy to be effective, to be – with the consent of the public – kept confidential from the public. And that’s the system we have today. It works. There is no Hoover pulling strings in Washington.

As to why most of those on the intel oversight committees aren’t backing the more radical “reform” proposals, personally I think the answer is in part politics (they supported these programs, and will look silly) and in part they supported these programs because they agree that the benefits are worth the costs, and they still think so.

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LFC 01.22.14 at 9:41 pm

Re-looking at the OP and reading Andrew F’s 411, I’m increasingly convinced that the distinction drawn by some other commenters in this thread between motives (and rhetoric), on one hand, and actions, on the other, is important. To the extent that Snowden’s actions have promoted or will promote an “active debate by an informed public over what it wants the government to do and not to do” (to quote the OP), it’s hard to see those actions as harmful to ‘the liberal state’. If Knight & Johnson, to mention two of Henry’s favorite political theorists, are even halfway right about the practical benefits of democratic deliberation, then broader and more vigorous debate about surveillance etc., suitably informed but not dominated by expert opinion, should ultimately strengthen rather than weaken the foundations of ‘the liberal state’. Whatever erosion of trust has occurred as a result of the revelations — and given the low poll ratings for Congress, the exec. branch and other institutions, it’s perhaps hard to see how trust could be eroded too much further — can be regained if the govt shows itself to be responsive/responsible to general opinion here.

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LFC 01.22.14 at 9:47 pm

Andrew F @448
“But it’s reasonable for certain policies, which depend on secrecy to be effective, to be – with the consent of the public – kept confidential from the public.”

It’s the “with the consent of the public” part that’s the problem — the public can’t consent to things being kept secret unless it knows first, in general terms, what those things are.

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Anarcissie 01.22.14 at 10:58 pm

Some of this (from Democracy Now) might be relevant to some of this discussion: http://www.democracynow.org/2014/1/8/it_was_time_to_do_more. The beat goes on.

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Layman 01.22.14 at 11:28 pm

Andrew F at 448

“As to accountability, if we can’t rely on a review by the entire Senate, the entire House (intended by the Administration), and multiple federal judges to determine whether an intelligence program is legal/illegal… “

Beginning at the end, it seems to me from the data that the FISC is a rubber stamp. According to the government’s own reporting, FISC has never in any year approved fewer than 95% of such requests; and the approval rate before 2009 fell below 100% – to 99% – in only 1 year. In recent years, some requests have been denied (or have been withdrawn when denial seemed likely), but even then the approval rate is 96%.

http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/charting-33-years-of-fisa-report-data/

As to Congress, we have no idea what Senators or Representatives were told. We do know that some Senators claim they were briefed, they were alarmed by what they were told, but they were warned they could not reveal the programs on penalty of prosecution. Thus there was no way for them to object as a practical matter. How does such a procedure rise to the level of oversight?

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Douglas 01.22.14 at 11:33 pm

Don’t know if someone else has mentioned it yet, but Wilentz refers to Joshua Foust as somehow creditworthy.

Search for Joshua Foust on nakedcapitalism to get his sordid credentials.

Sorry, Sean Wilentz, but it’s obvious you’re little more than an Ivy League fakir puckerhead. Put a cork in it.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.22.14 at 11:35 pm

As to Congress, we have no idea what Senators or Representatives were told. We do know that some Senators claim they were briefed, they were alarmed by what they were told, but they were warned they could not reveal the programs on penalty of prosecution. Thus there was no way for them to object as a practical matter. How does such a procedure rise to the level of oversight?¨

The fundamental problem with this discussion, as with many similar discussions, is an unwillingness to let facts interfere with narrative. For example, compare the narrative above with the well known facts:

“”I can assure you that this isn’t about spying on the American people,” said Franken, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I have a high level of confidence that this is used … to protect us, and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism.”

Franken told WCCO he had been briefed on the controversial program and believed Snowden should be investigated for leaking sensitive documents.

Though he defended the program, Franken is also advocating for increased transparency. He’s part of a bipartisan group of senators now pushing a bill to declassify secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance rulings.”

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Ronan(rf) 01.22.14 at 11:39 pm

Somewhat relatedly people should check out Vesla Weaver and Amy Lermans research (most of it online unpawalled)

http://veslaweaver.wordpress.com/research-2/

mainly the stuff on how the US justice system and mass incarceration has reshaped notions of citizenship etc (theres a book coming out on it soon, i think) Its related to this, in some ways

anyway..

Consumatopia – “When the government can keep its actions secret, it becomes dangerous. That doesn’t mean the government should never act in secret, it does mean that it should do so only rarely. This is not an illiberal position–liberal government is transparent.”

When do you think govt should act in secret ? Im not saying that as a gotcha of some sort but genuinely curious . Im conflicted on it and would be interested to see where you draw the line ..

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Layman 01.22.14 at 11:43 pm

“The fundamental problem with this discussion, as with many similar discussions, is an unwillingness to let facts interfere with narrative.”

Yes, apparently that is the problem.
_____

“There are very significant limits [on what you can and cannot say], and they are very cumbersome and unwieldy. If you want to play a watchdog role, you try to work within the rules. This is a sensitive subject,” Wyden told the magazine.
“A lot of people have just said to me, ‘Well, you feel so strongly about [these issues] — when you knew this, why didn’t you just go to the floor of the United States Senate and just, you know, read it all [into the record]?’ And, of course, anybody who does this kind of work thinks a lot about that. You think about it all the time,” he said.

“I can see why plenty of people would criticize me — progressives and others. I can understand why plenty of people who have views similar to mine would say they would have done it differently.”

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden has access to classified national security information.

For years, he and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) tried to raise the alarm about how the NSA was using its power under the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to gather information, including on people in the United States. But because they were unable to disclose details of the programs, their warnings garnered little attention.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/317319-wyden-considered-disclosing-nsa-secrets-on-senate-floor#ixzz2rAqU5viZ
Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook

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Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 12:53 am

When do you think govt should act in secret ? Im not saying that as a gotcha of some sort but genuinely curious . Im conflicted on it and would be interested to see where you draw the line ..

I don’t have a detailed theory on this, but I’m a lot more tolerant of small or time-limited secrets. Negotiations between legislators should be private, but the final bills should be public. I don’t want to see the plans for a nuclear bomb, but I want to know how many nuclear bombs are in our arsenal and their scale. I don’t need to see every tactical decision in a war, but every time we decide to start an armed engagement in a foreign country, that ought to be publicly discussed. I don’t want to know who is being wiretapped, but if you’re keeping a database with the entire country’s metadata in it, we should know about it, and broadly how that metadata is used.

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Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 1:39 am

The idea that because I voted for a legislator I should trust their party to appoint a committee to conduct work in secret ignores how public debate functions.

Take the issue of torture. Infamously, congressional committees were for it before they were against it. Once the debate became public, there was a bipartisan coalition against it. Including some legislators who probably knew about it. It would seem that there were some legislators who were okay with something in private, but once confronted with it in public felt the need to object.

Someone on a secret committee has completely different incentives than someone acting in public. Some legislators probably feared (and still fear!) that if they reject any Administration request, and a terrorist strike happens, they’ll be blamed. (Whereas they by-and-large weren’t blamed for torture. The only legislator who got a hard time for torture was Pelosi–because she tried to start talking about it again post-Bush.)

It’s always been true that depending on how you word the question you can get majorities both for and against torture. No doubt there is a substantial number of Americans who, deep down, wish we had never found out about Abu Gharib. The public debate in a democracy isn’t just majority rule–it’s also a chance for the minority to confront the majority. A minority can still have influence in a democracy. They can join in coalitions with other factions. They can outright shame the majority into action. So it isn’t surprising that when legislators elected by a majority get a chance to act secretly, they act differently than they do publicly. They prefer that some complicated issues that might divide their coalition just quietly go away. This is a fundamental problem with delegating oversight to people acting in secret–it deprives minorities of their public voice.

To be honest, given the record of torture, I have even less confidence in the congressional committees than I do in the NSA itself. The NSA is definitely not the worst actor in the world of government secrecy.

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 2:33 am

My problem, I guess, is that when you do ‘add light’ – through oversight etc – the problem just dissapears to another dark corner.
So the US torture program was unusual in that it had clearance (and was justified) at the top of the executive branch, but torture has historically been carried out by the US, just instead through proxies or with less direct approval through the chain of command. (Thats debatable in some ways, but I still think is largely reasonable)
My impression is that the torture program took the form it did b/c US inteligence agencies and the executive branch have become more constrained by laws in the past couple of decades. But after it was disbanded, afaict, they just resorted to targetted killings (through drones and special forces)

I dont know how this reality transfers to oversight on something like the NSA’s programs.
The first problem I guess is you’re going politically up against an entrenched, powerful interest group in Washington and are going to have difficulty designing and passing meaningful legislation to begin with.
Next you’re going to have trouble with Senators/Congressmen understanding the technical details of what they’re supposed to be monitoring.
The ability of the security services to disguise/hide programs etc
The eventual degradation over time of any legislation passed.
And so on ..

I dont really understand this aspect of it though.
I’m not sure how the oversight process works in general, how inevitable it is that legislation passed to constrain the security services will end up watered down by attrition as the years pass.
It seems in reality that the NSS is just an endlessly expanding entity that cant really be ‘controlled’ in any meaningful way.

Thats all a little convoluted. Sorry. And the comparison i made with how the torture program evolved isnt perfect . (there are laws in the US which act against domestic spying I gather, and different expectations for domestic and international programs – the later usually being more closely under executive control )

tbh, i read back on this and dont think ive made much of a point here , but its long and itd annoy me to delete it. So ill thrown it up

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Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 3:04 am

No, you made some good points. It actually gets to a dilemma I have with Greenwald’s writing. Sometimes, especially during the Bush years, he would describe security state overreach as if it was this unprecedented new travesty, as if none of the madness that went on during the Cold War had ever happened. That makes it easier to rally opposition, but it means that any solutions coming from that perspective are ahistorical.

Sometimes it seems like the every actor in the NSS has their own incentives, but their actions don’t come together to form a coherent agenda, other than to grow ever bigger. Perhaps the libertarian institutional critique is the right one after all?

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:38 am

Well, apparently if the Senate is not unanimous in professing unawareness of super secret programs that only people who read Seymour Hersh 20 years ago could have imagined, then it’s perfectly truthful to claim that there was no oversight.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:46 am

For most people in the USA, the current age is one of unprecedented civil liberties and civil rights – sadly enough. It is always fascinating, though, to see how angrily privileged white men insist that the golden age, perhaps of the Truman years, has been thrown away by this horrible black guy. In one screed, Greenwald locates the end of the rule of law precisely at the moment Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. Because 100 years of lynch law doesn’t matter – at least to him. But even though our Libertarian Hall Monitors disagree, vehemently, for some of us the small steps President Obama has been able to take to limit the prison state are far more important than the violations of Al Alwaqi’s supposed right to make war on the United States.

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Anarcissie 01.23.14 at 5:06 am

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:46 am @ 462:
‘… It is always fascinating, though, to see how angrily privileged white men insist that the golden age, perhaps of the Truman years, has been thrown away by this horrible black guy. …’

The link I posted in 451 shows that the same things were going on in the 1950s and 1960s, so it’s hard to know what you’re talking about.

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Matt 01.23.14 at 7:12 am

My impression is that the torture program took the form it did b/c US inteligence agencies and the executive branch have become more constrained by laws in the past couple of decades. But after it was disbanded, afaict, they just resorted to targetted killings (through drones and special forces)

No, the US remote assassination program was contemporaneous with its torture program. Torture wasn’t replaced with assassination. The US began torturing* in 2002. The first drone assassination was in Yemen in November 2002. Drone assassinations in Pakistan have happened every year since 2004, and there have been quite a few more in at least Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The torture program is no longer operational — or at least not visible — but drone attacks continue to the present.

*To the extent that the formally approved War on Terror torture committed last decade can be considered as an episode — US soldiers have tortured before, US police have tortured before, US corporate security goons have tortured before.

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Martin Bento 01.23.14 at 7:26 am

On the question of which should be the primary focus: government or corporate abuse of privacy, it is worth noting that, yes, the government, if it is democratic (not all are) is accountable to a much greater degree than private players, though one cannot make this argument if one feels that actually-existing governments are not, any of them, democracies. OTOH, the government can mess with you in ways that private players cannot, because they make the rules and they have the monopoly on the legal use of violence. Also, corporate power is an extension of state power in the sense that corporations are legal fictions: entities that only exist because the state says they exist. Finally, the information about you that the NSA can access is always a superset of what Google can because the NSA can demand what it likes of Google, but the reverse is not true.

And, yes, companies like Booz are the worst of both worlds, but they are the worst of *both* worlds. They lack the accountability of government, but the government shares power with them, so they have power that conventional private entities do not. They are more dangerous than government, but also more dangerous than private companies unpartnered with government.

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 11:22 am

Matt @464

Thats Mark Mazzetti’s argument anyway. Targetted assasinations increased substantially after torture stopped. His argument is it was ramped up due to fears internally in the CIA that people would start being prosecuted for torture

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n14/stephen-holmes/whats-in-it-for-obama

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Manta 01.23.14 at 11:38 am

@462
It is always fascinating, though, to see how angrily privileged white men insist that the golden age, perhaps of the Truman years, has been thrown away by this horrible black guy.”

Ah, yes, the “only racists would care about privacy” argument.
It’s proper than just after MLK day this argument is made: it’s a lucky thing that the FBI did not spy on and try to destroy him.

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Manta 01.23.14 at 11:57 am

For those still claiming that the NSA program was aimed at terrorists and was properly supervised:

Via Kevin Drum:
http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/01/review-board-splits-whether-nsa-phone-record-program-legal

“conclusion that Section 215 of the Patriot Act doesn’t authorize the government to collect bulk phone records” … “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation”

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 12:07 pm

“Perhaps the libertarian institutional critique is the right one after all?”

Yeah, to some degree. But I still think it falls down on (1) not having any practical use. If you cant reform the NSS you cant abolish it (2) completely ignoring (or not caring about) the fact that maintaining a liberal order does rely on some amount of coercion, domestically and internationally. I can see the logic in the existence of the NSS in a country the size of the US (its inevitable and to my mind desirable to some level) although I couldnt in my own country (Ireland) for a variety of reasons (I know that makes me a terrible, terrible person :) )

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Manta 01.23.14 at 12:16 pm

Ronan, I think your support for US security state and distrust for Irish security state stems mostly from the fact that you know the latter better than the former.

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 12:36 pm

I dont ‘support’ the NSS in the US Manta, as much as such a statement makes any sense. In the past Irish security has been to some extent gauranteed by other countries (initially Britain, now the EU) but when the state has felt the need to use illiberal tactics (such as during independence, the second world war and to a lesser extent the Troubles) it has, but I wouldnt support institutionalising these practices. (some have been, I think, to some extent)
I dont know how much Ireland participates in EU security arrangements, military engagement is complicated b/c neutrality was written into the consitution, and the public generally doesnt support military action. Im good with all that, and support winding down *all* meaningful engagement in any military operation, pushing for genuine neutrality, and turning Ireland into some type of Qatar in the Atlantic without the Al Thani’s meddling – where people come to negotiate peace deals, where the Dept of Foreign Affairs is seen as a genuinely neutral actor which campaigns primarily on global human rights issues, and where all sorts of international isses come to be resolved. I dont know how that works, but itd be AWESOME.

Anyway, shorter story, Ireland isnt the US. Both have different obligations and expectations.

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 12:40 pm

Also without Qatars social policies, obvs

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Manta 01.23.14 at 1:05 pm

Ronan, you made my point perfectly: you have a long well thought explanation on why you want to wind down the security state that you know, and very few words on why you support the US one (and “I can see the logic in the existence of the NSS in a country the size of the US (its inevitable and to my mind desirable to some level) ” is supporting it).

I.e.: in the situation you actually care and know best, you see the arguments in favor of the security state as bullshit and the disadvantages as very real; in the situation you care and know less, you have a different opinion.

I want to emphasize this is not intended as a criticism: in the situation where you have more power to act and are better informed you are less prone to believe the propaganda.

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Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 1:18 pm

I’m not speaking about the US domestically. I have no real opinion on domestic spying etc, b/c as you say I don’t live with it. That’s an issue internal to the US which American citizens have to deal with. (Although my sympathies would be with rolling back internal security polices, reforming the justice system etc)
Im talking internationally. As the worlds major power the US has *some* obligations to the global liberal order. It has a role in maintaining security in certain regions, allowing the global economy to function, tackling global threats etc. I dont always agree with the way these things are dealt with, but theyre still expectations and obligations that major powers have. Which was implied in my comment ‘ Irish security is gauranteed by .. ‘ etc etc
This all needs to be backed up, to some degree, by a large military and the other institutions of the NSS, but what role these institutions play domestically in the US isn’t my business. (my sympathies notwithsatnding)

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Layman 01.23.14 at 1:39 pm

“Well, apparently if the Senate is not unanimous in professing unawareness of super secret programs that only people who read Seymour Hersh 20 years ago could have imagined, then it’s perfectly truthful to claim that there was no oversight.”

I think you’ve got it backwards. If the warrants are rubber-stamped in secret; and some members of one Congress say they were told some things, objected to them, but were bound to secrecy; and some other members of Congress say they weren’t told at all; how can one truthfully claim there was oversight?

Can you understand why the FBI couldn’t go to a Federal judge with a showing of probable cause, to get a warrant to acquire the metadata for a named individual, when they need it? Can you identify one case where this program saved lives? Better yet, should that be the standard – that it saved lives? Isn’t that the argument for gun control?

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Manta 01.23.14 at 1:46 pm

“Can you identify one case where this program saved lives? “

As I said in the link before, the review board concluded
“We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/independent-review-board-says-nsa-phone-data-program-is-illegal-and-should-end/2014/01/22/4cebd470-83dd-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

I somehow doubt Elisee would manage to do better than the review board.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 1:56 pm

“Can you understand why the FBI couldn’t go to a Federal judge with a showing of probable cause, to get a warrant to acquire the metadata for a named individual, when they need it? “

Two reasons: 1) Verizon has no duty to preserve records so they may not be there when requested and 2) the Courts have held that this type of information is not private ( no expectation of privacy) and does not require search warrants consistently. For example, collecting postal “meta-data” found on physical envelopes has been collected without warrant for 100 years or more.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 2:19 pm

@467 “Ah, yes, the “only racists would care about privacy” argument.”

I don’t have the slightest clue how one could come up with this as a summary of my argument in good faith. Obviously the FBI’s campaign against Dr. King and larger programs such as Cointelpro are far starker and more egregious violations of privacy than NSA collection of metadata. Thus the libertarian hysteria over the national security state we have at this moment shares more with the Dixiecrat party’s attacks on “big government tyranny” than it does with an genuine concern with the operation of a democratic state. The tradition of complaining about government over-reach in defense of private power reaches back in the USA to Calhoun or before. The other component of this hysteria seems to me to be an attempt to minimize the crimes of George W. Bush.

¨The link I posted in 451 shows that the same things were going on in the 1950s and 1960s, so it’s hard to know what you’re talking about.”

They were not the same things at all.

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Manta 01.23.14 at 2:41 pm

Elisee, I gave both your quote and the “shorter” version in the same post so people could compare them and see by themselves if it is an accurate interpretation.

But maybe you are right: a better rephrasing of what you are saying is
“only racists care about privacy under Obama”.
I suppose it’s progress, since you did not accuse them of being Nazi.

I take the occasion to link to a post by Juan Cole
“Gov’t used Surveillance of MLK in Bid to Destroy Him: Now they want us to just Trust Them”
http://www.juancole.com/2014/01/surveillance-destroy-trust.html

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 2:53 pm

@475 “I think you’ve got it backwards. If the warrants are rubber-stamped in secret; and some members of one Congress say they were told some things, objected to them, but were bound to secrecy; and some other members of Congress say they weren’t told at all; how can one truthfully claim there was oversight?”

Al Franken claims to have been well informed, so it is clear that there was some oversight. Whether Wyden was told, bothered to go to the meetings, or realized the implications of what he was told, is something else.

@476
It’s very easy to see why access to the metadata might be critical. Imagine if NSA were competent enough to have analysed calls from the 9/11 conspirators before 9/12 (it’s easy if you try) and FBI had then been able to question the network of people who had conversed with them. Now try to imagine the Executive or Legislative branches ruling out such a search. There are many other such hypotheticals that can easily be constructed: A chance intercept of a call from a Zeta leader to an associate in Texas, for example. If the review board is correct, then we might want to ask why the security community has been so inept in using this valuable source of data.

The parallels between the libertarian critique of the intelligence branches and their critiques of social welfare branches of the government are striking. Abuses, fraud, waste, and so on are either evidence of a need to reform a government operation or of a need to abolish it, depending on one’s ideological understanding of the proper role of the state – which is Wilentz’s point. Consider that Ron Paul proposed that chartering privateers and private assassins was the appropriate response to 9/11.

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Manta 01.23.14 at 3:03 pm

“Imagine if …”

Eliesee, while you are busying imagining things and construct scenarios, the plain reality is that the NSA spying program from a counter-terrorism point of view was completly useless.

Now, I agree with you that it has many useful applications, both domestic (spying on political opponents, journalists, whistle-blowers, etc.) and abroad, but counter-terrorism is not one of those.

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Anarcissie 01.23.14 at 3:18 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 2:53 pm @ 480: ‘… The parallels between the libertarian critique of the intelligence branches and their critiques of social welfare branches of the government are striking. …’

Usually, fans of the Welfare state — social democrats — have not been very forward about its connections with war, imperialism, and police-state surveillance and internal control, but they certainly exist in the Bismarckian model and in the regular behavior of the U.S. ruling class during and after World War 2 (at least). The problem with the libertarians is not that they’re incorrect about these connections, but that they don’t go far enough and also critique capitalism and its class system, which necessitate these projects.

483

Kaveh 01.23.14 at 3:28 pm

@478 I think that characterization of your argument was too kind. Yes, please, let’s talk about the racial dimension of this:

for some of us the small steps President Obama has been able to take to limit the prison state are far more important than the violations of Al Alwaqi’s supposed right to make war on the United States.

So they only lock up/surveil/drone bad people? Whether Obama or Glenn Greenwald are good people is beside the point. And, like AndrewF above, you seem to be flippantly, willfully ignoring[1] that major targets of surveillance are ethnic and religious minorities and people who defend them–Juan Cole was targeted for FBI surveillance (under Bush) b/c of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, lawyers who defend Guantanamo detainees report that their phones were tapped. No, Juan Cole isn’t an elected official, but clearly these powers have been used for political purposes, and if Obama isn’t using them to promote another war right now, that doesn’t mean his successor won’t.

1. I suspect AndrewF didn’t ignore so much as simply approve of this, but anyway…

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Layman 01.23.14 at 3:33 pm

“Al Franken claims to have been well informed, so it is clear that there was some oversight. Whether Wyden was told, bothered to go to the meetings, or realized the implications of what he was told, is something else.”

In other words, you like what Franken says, so it’s the truth; and you don’t like what Wyden says, so he lies.

That aside, if the briefings are secret, and Senators who oppose the program can only do so in silence, where is the oversight? How could a Senator legally oppose the program?

485

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 3:48 pm

@481 “Now, I agree with you that it has many useful applications, both domestic (spying on political opponents, journalists, whistle-blowers, etc.) and abroad, but counter-terrorism is not one of those.”

Can you point me to any evidence that the metadata program was used for spying on political opponents?

486

Ronan(rf) 01.23.14 at 3:57 pm

I linked to this above but it gives figues on how successful the program has been

http://natsec.newamerica.net/nsa/analysis

“far more important than the violations of Al Alwaqi’s supposed right to make war on the United States.”

Do you think the assasinations of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki were justified? Whatever the importance of the subject in general

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 3:57 pm

@483 You’ve misunderstood my point, which does not rely on the idea that the government is wholly good or on an evaluation of the drone program. For me, the civil rights/liberties implications of e.g. the crack sentencing reform, the revival of the DOJ civil rights division, and the various immigration reforms among others are very important and far outweigh the supposed effects of the metadata program. That is, domestically, Obama’s administration has vastly reduced the oppressive impact of the state on the population. NSA’s information gathering efforts are, to me, a lot less intrusive than e.g. the open season on prisoners in custody that we witnessed during the Bush years.

I’m also curious why you think that any precedents set by President Obama would be considered binding by a ne-con administration. Clearly, Dick Cheney’s conception of the powers of the executive did not consider precedent at all.

488

Manta 01.23.14 at 4:05 pm

Shorter Elisee:
“Since I approve some of Obama’s policies, I accuse people who oppose some other of his policies of being racists”.

Even shorter:
“I am a hack”.

489

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:38 pm

@482 You are under a serious misapprehension of the Libertarian critique of the state. As illustrated by Hayek’s enthusiasm for Pinochet’s torture regime or Margret Thatcher’s critique of the nanny state, state coercion is not a problem for libertarians as long as it is in the cause of privilege. Providing day care for low income people funded by taxes on income is despotism, but ripping out the eyeballs of labour organizers is just prudent protection of private property. Similarly, Ron Paul finds enforcement of the fair housing/accomodation laws to be despotic, but state suppression of abortion rights to be prudent protection of the family. It is not that the libertarians do not “go far enough” but that their “left” allies and excusers have been taken in – or have deceived themselves about the real nature of the libertarian ideology.

490

Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 4:47 pm

For me, the civil rights/liberties implications of e.g. the crack sentencing reform, the revival of the DOJ civil rights division, and the various immigration reforms among others are very important and far outweigh the supposed effects of the metadata program.

I would agree with this, but I don’t see how it implies that the metadata program is a good idea.

So far as I can tell, by the legal arguments used to defend that metadata collection (that we have no privacy interest in our metadata), there isn’t any Constitutional reason why the FBI couldn’t collect this data just like the NSA has, then data mine it to their hearts’ content to profile whoever they want, foreign or domestic. Counterterrorism efforts, both at the national and local level, are already engaging in activity that’s too close to profiling in my opinion, and I fear that if this program stands that all of the legal machinery is in place to make that much worse. The next time something COINTELPRO-like emerges, it will be backed by Big Data and far more ubiquitous electronic communication.

If the complaint is just that Greenwald is unfair to Obama personally sometimes, well, Greenwald is kind of unfair to everyone sometimes ;).

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Layman 01.23.14 at 4:58 pm

“It is not that the libertarians do not “go far enough” but that their “left” allies and excusers have been taken in – or have deceived themselves about the real nature of the libertarian ideology.”

Which leftists have been decieved, either by libertarians or by themselves, about the real nature of libertarian ideology? Give examples which illustrate the deception – say, some leftist who believes Ron Paul supports abortion rights, to use your own suggestion.

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Layman 01.23.14 at 5:00 pm

“Two reasons: 1) Verizon has no duty to preserve records so they may not be there when requested and 2) the Courts have held that this type of information is not private ( no expectation of privacy) and does not require search warrants consistently. For example, collecting postal “meta-data” found on physical envelopes has been collected without warrant for 100 years or more.”

Yet any prosecutor with a need for this information and a showing of probable cause would go to a judge for warrant to get this information (undercutting point 2), and would have a reasonable expectation that Verizon could provide it (undercutting point 1). Isn’t that so?

493

Barry 01.23.14 at 5:07 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:46 am

” For most people in the USA, the current age is one of unprecedented civil liberties and civil rights – sadly enough. It is always fascinating, though, to see how angrily privileged white men insist that the golden age, perhaps of the Truman years, has been thrown away by this horrible black guy. In one screed, Greenwald locates the end of the rule of law precisely at the moment Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. “

Bull. What was being established was that being caught, dead to rights, could be nullified if one were of high office.

“Because 100 years of lynch law doesn’t matter – at least to him.”

More bull.

“But even though our Libertarian Hall Monitors disagree, vehemently, for some of us the small steps President Obama has been able to take to limit the prison state are far more important than the violations of Al Alwaqi’s supposed right to make war on the United States.”

At this point you’ve disqualified yourself as an honest debater. There is no argument about ‘Al Alwaqi’s supposed right to make war on the United States’; there is an argument on the circumstances of the government killing people. If you passed high school civics, you know the difference.

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Anarcissie 01.23.14 at 5:37 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 4:38 pm @ 489: ‘… As illustrated by Hayek’s enthusiasm for Pinochet’s torture regime or Margret Thatcher’s critique of the nanny state, state coercion is not a problem for libertarians as long as it is in the cause of privilege….’

I’ve been arguing with libertarians for decades, so I know something about what they think. As with ‘socialist’, the word ‘libertarian’ is given many meanings and is often abused. At the risk of playing a No True Scotsman game, I have to protest that people who favor state coercion when it serves their privileges, like Thatcher or Reagan and their followers, are not real libertarians. Another example is Rand Paul, who pushes ‘Right To Work’ laws, which are a clear example of government interference with the classical liberal rights of association, assembly, expression, contract, and personal property in one’s labor, and which, therefore, any consistent libertarian would reject. Perhaps you have encountered only phony libertarians.

Because people like Thatcher, Reagan, and Paul are not very smart or not very honest, they’re uninteresting as theoreticians, but they may be important as political operatives, and it is a good idea to see what fuels their political careers. A part of that is reaction to the Bismarckian welfare-warfare state which you seem to favor: lightly pay off the poor and the working class in order to get a license to wage constant imperial war abroad and set up the machinery of a totalitarian police state at home, just in case. A lot of people don’t like it, and in the absence of prominent liberals opposing it, a lot of people are naively gravitating to Paul, who is now making a career out of flogging the issue. One might say it’s a case of one hand washing the other.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 6:07 pm

@492 Germany finds a cell phone in a garbage can that has 5 month ago calls from both a known AQ number in Yemen and an unknown US number. NSA asks verizon for the call records. Verizon notes that they only keep those records for 3 months. Problem?

@490 The existence of metadata and other electronic data creates all sorts of potentials for abuse and misuse – and not just by government, but by criminals and private commercial brokers. I don’t particularly trust NSA with that data, but I don’t trust Verizon or Chinese military with it either and it is far down on my list of things to be worried about. The kidnapping and torture of Padilla: 5 alarm bells. The NSA predictable use of big data – maybe a little unease.

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Layman 01.23.14 at 6:21 pm

Elisee @ 495

“Germany finds a cell phone in a garbage can that has 5 month ago calls from both a known AQ number in Yemen and an unknown US number. NSA asks verizon for the call records. Verizon notes that they only keep those records for 3 months. Problem?”

There is a problem, and it’s that we know Verizon (and everyone else) keeps such information for more than 5 months. If they don’t keep it long enough, enact legislation to require them to keep it longer. Problem solved.

Weren’t you the one lamenting ignorance of the facts earlier?

http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2011/09/retentionpolicy.pdf

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 6:22 pm

@494 ” Another example is Rand Paul, who pushes ‘Right To Work’ laws, which are a clear example of government interference with the classical liberal rights of association, assembly, expression, contract, and personal property in one’s labor, and which, therefore, any consistent libertarian would reject. Perhaps you have encountered only phony libertarians.”

But can there be a more classical expression of the classical liberal (in the economic sense) program than the Anti-Combination acts of the 19th century United Kingdom? Libertarianism’s reliance on property rights, and the insistence that property rights take precedence over human rights such as the right to self-government or to food and shelter, must, in the end, justify oppression in the name of defence of property/contracts etc. No? There is variation among Libertarians, but Libertarianism is not half-way to Kropotkin, it is instead a profoundly anti-human ideology that often relies on the pretence that judges and state endorsed property titles are not Government.

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Steve LaBonne 01.23.14 at 6:24 pm

Just a reminder that there is still no reason to believe that mass collection of phone records is of any actual security value. Arguments which pretend otherwise should be treated with contempt.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 6:30 pm

@496 “There is a problem, and it’s that we know Verizon (and everyone else) keeps such information for more than 5 months. If they don’t keep it long enough, enact legislation to require them to keep it longer. Problem solved.”

Because, for you, having a legal requirement that huge corporations keep data around so that judges can hand it over to NSA is fundamentally different than having NSA keep the data. Ok.

500

Igor Belanov 01.23.14 at 6:30 pm

I think the Anti-Combination acts were actually more evidence of the oppressiveness of ‘Old Corruption’ Britain rather than the ideological realisation of classical liberalism. Francis Place, who argued successfully against it in the 1820s, was a lot closer to free-trade liberalism than Lord Liverpool and the Tories, and he argued that repeal of the act would actually create more harmonious relations and avoid secret worker conspiracies.

501

Layman 01.23.14 at 6:38 pm

“Because, for you, having a legal requirement that huge corporations keep data around so that judges can hand it over to NSA is fundamentally different than having NSA keep the data.”

Translation: “Yes, my hypothetical example was wrong.”

502

Kaveh 01.23.14 at 6:50 pm

a legal requirement that huge corporations keep data around so that judges can hand it over to NSA is fundamentally different than having NSA keep the data

First of all, no corporation has guaranteed access to the data held by all the other corporations, so the corporations don’t have that data around in the same way that the NSA does.

Second, It seems like it’s a pretty significant expense for the NSA to hang onto all that data, of course corporations would be holding a lot of data anyway for their own purposes, but the NSA is also subsidizing ‘big data’. One reason the tech companies have been so quiet about their deals with the NSA is that it’s been lucrative for them. This mass data collection involves a significant transfer of wealth from taxpayers to Google et al.

503

bobh 01.23.14 at 6:53 pm

Thank you for this thoughful–and rapid–response to Wilentz’s hatchet job. He is a lightweight, and his intellectual style has always been that of a straight-A student trying to prove his mettle to a professor by going too far with a clever and original but wrong-headed ideas: when an illiberal state is run by liberals, being anti-illiberal means you are anti-liberal. Or something. I remember when he spent thousands of words arguing that Bob Dylan’s main influence and precursor was Aaron Copeland. The question in this case is whether his motivation is anything other than personal ambition to become Hilary ‘s pet historian.

504

Anarcissie 01.23.14 at 7:25 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.23.14 at 6:22 pm @ 497 — I’m well aware of the theoretical deficiencies of libertarianism. Even within libertarianism, however, it is obvious that laws prohibiting or inhibiting unions are explicit violations of the property rights of laborers in their labor. Therefore, libertarians who admire such laws are either fakes or not too bright.

As Americans are soaked in liberalism from the day they’re born, their instinct to resist the domination and exploitation inherent in the present capitalist state is often something naive like libertarianism, a kind of fundamentalist flight into a fantasy of the past. Some of them might be on the road to Kropotkin, or not — it is hard to change one’s deep ideas. In any case, the forces of imperialism, war, privilege, and the police state are large and many, and in matters of practical politics those who want to resist them, being few and scattered, have to take their allies where and as they find them.

The welfare deal offered by the Bismarcks of today is not that good, anyway, because when they no longer think they need it, it will be rescinded, as we have observed in the United States since the decline of the Soviet Union.

505

NotaBot 01.23.14 at 8:00 pm

“Corporations are just as bad as the government” is another talking point that doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Can Facebook issue a warrant for your arrest? How many people have been prosecuted by the Department of Google Justice? How large is Yahoo’s drone fleet? How many people have been assassinated at the order of Tim Cook? Can Microsoft subject you to military detention without trial?

If anyone has a strong case to make against Greenwald’s reporting, they should be able to do without false equivalencies, guilt by association, lies of omission, etc etc.

506

Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 8:29 pm

I don’t particularly trust NSA with that data, but I don’t trust Verizon or Chinese military with it either and it is far down on my list of things to be worried about. The kidnapping and torture of Padilla: 5 alarm bells. The NSA predictable use of big data – maybe a little unease.

Despite our differences in tone and emphasis, I’m not sure that our positions are all that far apart. (Well, you might not sign onto my government-funded Super TOR proposal @396, but at least our personal Overton windows intersect.) I also think having the phone companies hold onto the metadata longer is a stupid idea (what stops Booz Allen from paying Verizon off?) and I wouldn’t even put the metadata at the top of the most serious Snowden revelations (that would be corrupting the standards bodies.)

I guess I would put it like this–my unease that metadata collection will be abused exceeds my unease that ending metadata collection will cost lives, for reasons discussed amply above.

507

Consumatopia 01.23.14 at 8:40 pm

At the risk of playing a No True Scotsman game, I have to protest that people who favor state coercion when it serves their privileges, like Thatcher or Reagan and their followers, are not real libertarians.

Worth noting that Thatcher was better than Hayek when it came to Pinochet: http://coreyrobin.com/2013/07/16/if-youre-getting-lessons-in-democracy-from-margaret-thatcher-youre-doing-it-wrong/

When it comes to civil liberties, I would probably more likely to trust a populist libertarian (someone who just emotionally doesn’t like government bureaucracy) than some of their top theorists. I described some problems I have with Paul on civil liberties @332, but if forced to choose between President Rand Paul and President Hayek, I’d definitely take Paul.

508

Matt 01.23.14 at 9:39 pm

I first joined the ACLU in 2002 when it appeared that the USA had lost its collective mind and wasn’t going to find it again soon. I was furious at the war, spying, kidnapping, assassination, and torture under Bush. It looks like under Obama that the kidnapping and torture are probably over but we’ve still got one open war, an assassination program bigger than ever, and a spying program that looks as malignant as it did back in 2005. Nobody was prosecuted for the Bush-era state supported crimes and it looks like it will be the same for the Obama era: Snowden is in far more danger than the people who lie in open congressional hearings or murder Yemeni wedding parties.

I voted for Obama twice and I believe he’s done some good things. That doesn’t mean I am going to be silent or supportive about the bad things. It’s an insulting rhetorical move to say that people who criticize the national security state under Obama are just trying to minimize Bush’s crimes, fantasizing about a time when things were better for white men, or crypto-Friedmanites who will put the EPA and unemployment benefits on the chopping block next if they make gains against the unpopular NSA.

509

DaveL 01.23.14 at 10:48 pm

@444: “This discussion thread exhibits that the dominant ideas of a society ruled by financiers will be libertarianism, like it or not.”

Financiers of various sorts have thrived in all sorts of states. Corporatist “socialism light” seems more their speed these days. They benefit greatly from strong and “influenceable” government, so the mythical libertopia would probably not be much to their liking.

@481: +1, /like, etc. This is the key point.

@485: “Can you point me to any evidence that the metadata program was used for spying on political opponents?”

Can you point me to any proof that (a) it was not and (b) could not be so used? Don’t you think that a turn-key app for totalitarianism should have a little more in the way of controls and limits?

510

roger gathman 01.23.14 at 11:03 pm

Looking at the Snowden case where the view that we should value him as a hero because he is pointing out how the government is intruding on our rights versus we should despise him as a traitor because he is weakening the power of our executive branch and intelligence agencies to defend us seems to me to tacitly grant that the executive branch and the intelligence agencies have successfully defended us.
Let’s make another case. Let’s use a counterfactual.

Suppose a Snowden figure had gotten hold of the briefing papers Bush was given in August 2001, which famously reported that Osama bin Laden was planning on attacking America, and had given them to the papers – and the papers had published them in August of 2001. Of all the ways in which Mohammed Atta could have been thwarted, in my opinion, this would have been the single most efficient one. It would have been impossible for Bush not to alert the Transportation secretary, and it would have been unlikely that the suspicious behavior of the hijacking crew would have passed unnoticed.

So instead of granting the tacit premise (secrecy/greater security, transparency/greater risk), maybe we should consider that more Edward Snowdens will protect us more than a whole roomful of datastealing NSA-ers? More transparency, more security.

511

Collin Street 01.23.14 at 11:53 pm

Can you point me to any evidence that the metadata program was used for spying on political opponents?

Terrorists aren’t “political opponents”? They just blow things up for shits and giggles, or what here?

I mean, not that there aren’t reasons to track terrorists, but to think that someone whose tactics you disapprove of therefore becomes not a “political” opponent is a recipe for confusion, misunderstanding, mayhem, and general bad outcomes.

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Martin Bento 01.24.14 at 1:04 am

“Can you point me to any evidence that the metadata program was used for spying on political opponents?”

Well, it seems to have been used for spying on everyone, and it is hard to see political opponents being specifically excluded. Further, this info is saved. Even if the Obama admin is not interested in retaliating against, say, Occupy activists. In a few years. President Santorum or Cruz or Gingrich could be making that call, and when they make it, they will have access not only to the information current then, but to everything happening over the previous several years at least. Your data today has to not be a target for any potential president, not just the current one.

513

Manta 01.24.14 at 11:46 am

roger @510 “tacitly grant that the executive branch and the intelligence agencies have successfully defended us.”

Especially problematic since the facts are that the NSA spying program was not useful to fight terrorism.

I mean: one could reasonably start from the a priori assumption that the government when it works in secret still does its best to follow the law and do the “right thing”: it would be a stupid assumption, but not a crazy one.
But when judging a particular program, one should see if his conclusions fit the known facts.

Elisee’s method is to avoid dealing with reality by making stuff up: it was not a good method when used to justify torture under Bush (the “ticking bomb” scenario) and it remains a bad one when used to justify spying under Obama.

514

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.24.14 at 1:19 pm

@509 “Can you point me to any proof that (a) it was not and (b) could not be so used? Don’t you think that a turn-key app for totalitarianism should have a little more in the way of controls and limits?”

That is a quintessential Libertarian/Conservative argument. It is Ronald Reagan saying that the most frightening thing in the world is someone saying: “I am from the government and I am here to help you.” Any authority or capability the government has is an opportunity for abuse. One can, with better logic, argue that gun registration is a “turn-key app for totalitarianism”. After all, is there any proof that the instant background check system is not being used to track potential Wolverine Freedom Fighters and to direct a plot to secretly put fluoride in their tap water? Hmm?

515

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.24.14 at 1:25 pm

@512 “Well, it seems to have been used for spying on everyone, and it is hard to see political opponents being specifically excluded”

Actually, from what we know, which is quite a lot, it was not used for spying on everyone at all, and there were numerous checks and balances. There is no evidence it was used for spying on domestic political opponents of the government .

516

Manta 01.24.14 at 1:55 pm

“Actually, from what we know, which is quite a lot, it was not used for spying on everyone at all, and there were numerous checks and balances”

Since you say so, it is true.

What I don’t understand is: if the program is so awesome, why was it kept a secret?
The simplest explanation is “for the usual reasons why a government would keep secret a massive spying program on its citizens”: but I am sure you will give us the real reason.

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Layman 01.24.14 at 1:59 pm

“Actually, from what we know, which is quite a lot, it was not used for spying on everyone at all”

‘It was not used for spying on everyone at all’ in precisely the same way that if the police came to your house, collected evidence, & stored it in a box in the evidence room while promising not to look at it unless they need to, your house has not been searched at all.

518

Layman 01.24.14 at 2:08 pm

” and there were numerous checks and balances”

Can we not at least agree there were no meaningfull checks & balances? The data is technicallyavailable to dozens if not hundreds of people, and we now know of cases where they abused that access. There was some theoretical approval process, but we now know NSA requests sometimes misled FISC judges. We know FISC judges actually approve such requests by rote anyway. We know some members of Congress were not told, while others objected but were under a gag order and therefore unable to raise the alarm. We know NSA officials made false statements, both public and under oath, about these programs – telling the least dishonest lie they could, they say.

So the checks and balances don’t exist or don’t work. Isn’t that right?

519

Manta 01.24.14 at 2:15 pm

Layman,

for shame!
Putting actual examples of abuse against hypothetical scenarios and bare assertions: that’s so quintessentially libertarian and racist of you.

520

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.24.14 at 6:10 pm

“Can we not at least agree there were no meaningfull checks & balances? “

We could if you could point to a single serious use of the data to spy on political opposition or otherwise violate citizen rights. If you cannot, don’t we have to agree that they did work – just some minor abuses, caught and stopped? For an example of what happens when there are no working checks and balances, see the purge of USAGs or use of torture – both during Bush’s era. And note that in both those cases, formal processes that are supposed to act as checks were ineffective. Power trumps process every time.

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Steve Newcomb 01.24.14 at 6:38 pm

NSA data has been and probably is being used by the DEA and IRS, and in a manner (“parallel construction”) designed to conceal that fact from the justice and tax systems. If that doesn’t constitute lawless violation of citizen rights, what does?

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/08/dea-and-nsa-team-intelligence-laundering

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Ronan(rf) 01.24.14 at 6:45 pm

parallel construction seems an interesting phenomenon in general

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/11/counterinsurgency-to-fight-us-crime-no-thanks/

523

Ronan(rf) 01.24.14 at 6:53 pm

Actually, ive misunderstood what parallel construction is. I thought it was when you use tactics from national defence domestically, but it seems to be something more specific.
anyway, still interesting

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Sebastian H 01.24.14 at 7:45 pm

As used by Steve, “parallel construction” means that the NSA uses its snooping to develop leads on drug or tax matters, refers it to the FBI, DEA and/or IRS but instructs them to come up with some other pretexts for their searches so that the origin of the information isn’t traced back to the NSA. In the context of evidentiary hearings a better label for it would be “lying to the court”.

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Layman 01.24.14 at 8:00 pm

“We could if you could point to a single serious use of the data to spy on political opposition or otherwise violate citizen rights. If you cannot, don’t we have to agree that they did work “

That’s a failure of logic. Suppose there’s a town with no police force. Suppose there are no bank robberies in that town. Is the latter caused by the former? Of course not; they’re just two facts. The absences of abuses (no bank robberies) could be unrelated to the absence of meaningful oversight (no police force).

Besides, I don’t grant your premise. I think the NSA having your metadata at all, absent a warrant and a showing of probable cause, is already a violation of your civil rights. I offered you a parallel example involving home searches, but you didn’t respond to it.

Finally, and this has been said many times here already, there is no credible claim or evidence that this program has any beneficial effect on fighting terrorism. None at all. So this means that the program is arguably unlawful; that it lacks meaningful oversight; and that it produces no beneficial result. These are all facts. Why are you defending it?

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Douglas 01.24.14 at 8:18 pm

In reply to Glenn Greenwald @ 5:08pm,

“This guilt by association method – he worked with someone Impure on an issue and now is infected with that impurity! – is just childish. But worse, it’s rarely applied consistently. It’s usually just a means to enforce partisan loyalty ..”

That is a good refutation of those who’ve expressed disbelief at Mr. Snowden’s change of mind with regard to his employers and what he described as his “hardening”. That’s a standard response from that community, see the CIA’s organizational response to Philip Agee’s disclosures.
As if it weren’t credible that someone could be repulsed by “subversive capitalism” in the form of employment of third world police to further first world corporative interests. Mercenary security forces bought to subvert their country of origin. “Evolution not revolution”, is it? The “evolved” business of Constitution(s)-shredding, is it?

Rest assured that Mr. Omidyar’s business relationships have sparked a concentrated interest. Perhaps he could explain these things the best of all.

And speaking of business, Sibel Edmonds is under some sort of gag order in relation to 9/11 events. Perhaps you could reconcile that silence with some of the demands made upon Mr. Snowden, Ms. Edmonds? It really is most unfitting what with the allusion to “boiling frogs”. I’ll put this in quotes: “We” are much too intelligent to rest easy with such partial disclosure.
If there is a recent culture of taking pleasure in Mr. Snowden’s “lack of welcome” in certain communities, are “we” partaking of it?

Rather than question the hardening of Mr. Snowden, question the hardening of “W”.
Quoting Mattea Kramer and Chris Hellman,
“this country has spent a jaw-dropping $791 billion on “homeland security” since 9/11.
To give you a sense of just how big that is, Washington spent an inflation-adjusted $500 billion on the entire New Deal.”
And that 791 keeps growing.

Breaking Bad Bread Government

http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175655/

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Barry 01.24.14 at 8:28 pm

Sebastian H 01.24.14 at 7:45 pm

” As used by Steve, “parallel construction” means that the NSA uses its snooping to develop leads on drug or tax matters, refers it to the FBI, DEA and/or IRS but instructs them to come up with some other pretexts for their searches so that the origin of the information isn’t traced back to the NSA. In the context of evidentiary hearings a better label for it would be “lying to the court”.”

And an even better and more accurate label would be ‘perjury’.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.25.14 at 3:38 am

@525 “Besides, I don’t grant your premise. I think the NSA having your metadata at all, absent a warrant and a showing of probable cause, is already a violation of your civil rights. I offered you a parallel example involving home searches, but you didn’t respond to it.”

So your example of why safeguards on NSA use of metadata failed is that they had the metadata in the firstplace? Really?
Your parallel example is illustrative of the other point: the records were not in anyone’s house or personal possession. They were held by a giant corporation. The Supreme Court decided in the 1970s that telephone metadata was like postal address information, not something came with an expectation of privacy. The reasoning was that, far from being something in your home or in your effects, that information was something the user provided to a third party with the expectation that the third party would use it! That was for data obtained by police without a warrant by tapping phone lines (pen registers)! In this case, the third party had already accumulated and stored the data and was, no doubt, guarding it with all the ferocity and care that Target used for credit card data.

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Layman 01.25.14 at 4:29 am

“So your example of why safeguards on NSA use of metadata failed is that they had the metadata in the firstplace? Really?”

It’s pretty clear you’re impervious to reason. Really.

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Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 2:51 pm

Layman Beginning at the end, it seems to me from the data that the FISC is a rubber stamp. According to the government’s own reporting, FISC has never in any year approved fewer than 95% of such requests; and the approval rate before 2009 fell below 100% – to 99% – in only 1 year. In recent years, some requests have been denied (or have been withdrawn when denial seemed likely), but even then the approval rate is 96%.

Three things.

First, requests can be modified before being approved or denied, so those numbers are a little misleading. In other words, a request is submitted, the court is unhappy with something, the request is modified, and the request is approved.

Second, more importantly, the attorneys for the government understand well what the FISC will approve and what they will not approve. So requests that are unlikely to be approved simply aren’t submitted. Think of it this way. The IRS accepts most tax returns as filed – that’s not because the IRS is a rubber stamp.

Third, not all requests are created equal. Routine requests are likely to be approved, but the FISC has subjected the metadata program to substantial scrutiny. You can read many of the declassified opinions and orders resulting from the FISC’s examination of that program. This one, for example, required the government to submit any term it wished to use to search the metadata database to the Court before being permitted to do so.

If you read through that opinion, and the many others, you’ll see that the FISC hasn’t acted as a rubber stamp at all.

Manta Eliesee, while you are busying imagining things and construct scenarios, the plain reality is that the NSA spying program from a counter-terrorism point of view was completly useless.

According to Gen. Alexander, the metadata program “contributed to our overall understanding” and was of “help to the FBI” in 12 terrorist “events.”

The Privacy Board says that the program made “no concrete difference” in those cases, by which I suspect it means that if the contribution of the program were removed then the outcome of those 12 cases would remain the same.

While the statements of Gen. Alexander and the Privacy Board differ in emphasis, they actually don’t contradict one another. Taken together, they don’t support the idea that the program is “completely useless” however.

Now, this type of tool may be more useful in other types of cases. And there’s no difference in the degree of intrusion since the standard for accessing the database is no different than the standard for issuing a subpoena. At least in the case of the metadata database, access attempts are the subject of an oversight process by the courts and by Congress. Subpoenas are actually subject to less oversight or review.

At best, I view the program as arguable – that is, I can see reasons for changing it, and reasons for preserving it. But it’s nowhere near the grave violation of civil liberties, or alarming harbinger of tyranny and abuse, that the most strident advocates of its destruction so often claim.

Is it a “great” or “amazing” program? No. It’s a tool used in conjunction with other sources and methods to enable the government to trace down possible leads as quickly as possible.

Look, if the government wants to intimidate political figures, this program isn’t what they’ll use. They’ll conduct targeted, deep surveillance on the target, they’ll know his schedule, habits, behaviors, better than anyone else, and then – unless circumstances hurry them – they’ll make the approach at just the right time.

I’m sensitive to the civil liberties concerns with respect to this program, but they’re overblown. And if you think that policy and institutional review and oversight isn’t enough to protect against abuse, then your real worry should be targeted search and electronic surveillance warrants. But those have been around for a long time, after all, and a headline has to have something new if it’s going to sell…

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Anarcissie 01.25.14 at 3:41 pm

Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 2:51 pm @ 530: ‘…Look, if the government wants to intimidate political figures, this program isn’t what they’ll use. They’ll conduct targeted, deep surveillance on the target…’

Total superficial surveillance, such as the collection of telephone metadata, is used to locate targets. Neutralization or liquidation of targets would be accomplished by other means, not necessarily deep surveillance, as I pointed out previously.

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The Temporary Name 01.25.14 at 4:52 pm

Nobody says the government has to be efficient in its targeting.

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Layman 01.25.14 at 5:23 pm

” The IRS accepts most tax returns as filed – that’s not because the IRS is a rubber stamp.”

On the contrary; it does mean the IRS is a rubber stamp. If you mean to say that FISC expects virtually all requests to be valid & proper, because they expect the attorneys for the government to comply with standards for validity & propriety, and consequently few requests are ever actually reviewed – as is the case with tax returns – then I rather think you’re making my point about the absence of oversight.

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Layman 01.25.14 at 5:28 pm

‘According to Gen. Alexander, the metadata program “contributed to our overall understanding” and was of “help to the FBI” in 12 terrorist “events.”’

Yes, but apparently he was lying:

“Pressed by the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing, Gen. Keith B. Alexander admitted that the number of terrorist plots foiled by the NSA’s huge database of every phone call made in or to America was only one or perhaps two — far smaller than the 54 originally claimed by the administration.”

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/2/nsa-chief-figures-foiled-terror-plots-misleading/#ixzz2rQrAjQgf
Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

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Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 5:39 pm

No Layman, I mean that just as most taxpayers understand what the IRS expects, and so file returns that are in compliance, so too do government attorneys not waste their time by submitting requests that are likely to be rejected. They are repeat players who know the rules very well.

That said, I also linked you to an instance where the FISC gave much closer scrutiny to a request (namely for a renewal of the order for the metadata program at issue). And not only was the request not simply rubber-stamped, but the Court carried out a lengthy review process, during which the government was required to submit to the Court, on a case by case basis, any term it wanted to run on the database.

But that’s all in the opinion I linked, and in others like it.

Anarcissie, if the concern is government abusing the database to intimidate political movements or figures, they won’t need such a tool to find anyone. Indeed, it would make far more sense for a government official interested in doing so to contact a corrupt local district attorney, who will convene a grand jury and in short order produce the information desired. The alternative – using a database subject to 15 different kinds of scrutiny to conduct a criminal misuse of government resources – is more cumbersome and certain to be discovered.

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Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 5:54 pm

Layman, nope. The hearing took place in October. Alexander’s speech took place in June. All of the numbers in Leahy’s questions are straight from Alexander’s speech, which I linked to above.

Leahy and Alexander are distinguishing between “plots” and “events.” In Alexander’s original speech, in June, he explicitly notes the total number of “events” in which the two programs then at issue had helped (54 events) and the total number of “plots” disrupted (42 plots). Of the 54 events, Alexander notes that 13 had a nexus to the domestic US, and that the metadata program was helpful in those cases.

What’s grossly misleading is that article. To give one example of its many inaccuracies, it states:

Mr. Leahy, who has been a chief critic of the NSA, asked Gen. Alexander to admit that only 13 of the 54 cases had any connection at all to the U.S., “Would you agree with that, yes or no?”

“Yes,” Gen. Alexander replied in a departure from normal practice.

This makes it sound as though Leahy is revealing new information, and forcing Alexander into fessing up. The problem is that Leahy’s numbers come from Gen. Alexander’s speech back in June. Seriously, read the speech. Not only was Leahy not forcing Alexander into admitting anything, he was merely confirming what Alexander had already told the world 4 months prior.

Just another example of bizarrely sensationalist media reporting on the NSA surveillance story.

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Layman 01.25.14 at 6:08 pm

Andrew F @ 535

You can’t have it both ways. The comparison with the IRS has two key points – that the IRS expects most returns to conform, and that the IRS therefore does not scrutinize most returns leading to a high approval rate. If this comparison is valid, then FISC expects most requests to conform, and FISC does not scrutinize most requests leading to a high approval rate. You’re the one who made the comparison.

The fact that a tiny number are challenged or rejected simply shows that not all FISC judges are compliant, or that they are not always compliant, or that government lawyers sometimes go too far even for compliant judges. Human nature.

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Layman 01.25.14 at 6:12 pm

Andrew F @ 536

I read the speech. It is full of vague claims designed to create the impression of anti-terror success by the program. If you read it carefully, and read the follow up exchange from the hearing, it’s perfectly clear Alexander’s speech overstates the value of the program, deceptively. It seems well established that the administrators of this program lie about it routinely. Why do you continue to believe their lies?

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Steve Newcomb 01.25.14 at 9:52 pm

I’m sensitive to the civil liberties concerns with respect to this program, but they’re overblown. And if you think that policy and institutional review and oversight isn’t enough to protect against abuse, then your real worry should be targeted search and electronic surveillance warrants.

You’re defending the program for allegedly being helpful in counterterrorism. That’s understandable. But it is *primarily* used to tip off the DEA, IRS, the FBI, and other agencies to non-terrorist (but possibly illegal) activities by U.S. citizens, so that targeted surveillance can then be used against them. The uses of the same information for private purposes remains unknown, but you can safely bet the farm that it has been and will be used for such purposes. After all, the information, like most other government and military information, is in private hands; Snowden had such access by exercise of his privileges as a private employee of a private business, Booz-Allen-Hamilton.

I conclude that this program is not now, nor has it ever been, about counter-terrorism, really. Counter-terrorism is officially cited as an excuse for ignoring rule-of-law limitations on government power against U.S. citizens. This perfidy stands alongside other lawless behaviors of the Executive Branch, including its arrogation to itself the privilege of killing U.S. citizens abroad without due process, systematic official torture, the destruction of evidence by officials, official disregard of court orders, John Yoo’s grotesque legal fictions, and the failure to hold anyone accountable for any of these official crimes.

I submit to you that that’s rule of men, not rule of law. It’s nascent tyranny, not representative government. At some point, we will all have to acknowledge the stink of it and clean it up, or resign ourselves to living with increasing intimidation and decreasing liberty for what may be a very long time indeed. Personally, I hate that prospect. (The Germans are horrified, and with good reason; they’ve seen this drama before, and for citizens of the former GDR, all too recently.)

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Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 11:02 pm

Layman, here is Gen. Alexander verbatim in June:

Here are some statistics of those 54 events. Of the 54, 42 involved disruptive plots — disrupted plots. Twelve involved cases of material support to terrorism. Fifty of the 54 cases led to arrests or detentions. Our allies benefited, too. Twenty-five of these events occurred in Europe, 11 in Asia and five in Africa. Thirteen events had a homeland nexus. In 12 of those events, Section 215 contributed to our overall understanding and help to the FBI — twelve of the 13.

That’s crystal clear.

Here is Senator Leahy questioning Gen. Alexander months later:

SEN. LEAHY: Would you agree that the 54 cases that keep getting cited by the administration were not all plots, and out of the 54, only 13 had some nexus to the U.S. Would you agree with that, yes or no?

DIR. ALEXANDER: Yes.

And how did the article you cite (among many others) report this exchange? As Leahy showing that Alexander lied. Obviously that claim is silly, and is perpetuated by those in the media who don’t bother to read any statements coming out of the government.

Steve – the government apparently approved all of 300 “selectors” (telephone numbers, and other search terms) in 2012. That’s not running a dragnet, and that’s unlikely to be high volume trolling for random drug and tax enforcement information. Everything that’s done with that database is recorded, and details are reported to the FISC and to Congress (including and especially if the NSA shares any information from those queries with personnel outside the NSA, such as the FBI).

My high point of concern about this was the day the story broke. Everything we’ve learned since then has shown this program to be of lesser and lesser concern, whether from a civil liberties, counter-terrorism, or simply fiscal perspective.

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Anarcissie 01.25.14 at 11:32 pm

Andrew F. 01.25.14 at 5:39 pm @ 535: ‘… Anarcissie, if the concern is government abusing the database to intimidate political movements or figures, they won’t need such a tool to find anyone….’

It is not necessarily the government which will put the data to use. As I noted and as has been shown by events, the information may be passed to corporations, groups, parties, mafias, foreign powers, or favored private individuals, or it may be stolen. In any case, employment by the government is not a guarantee of anyone’s virtue; consider J. Edgar Hoover.

While intimidation is certainly a possible use of such data — every time you make a phone call or send an email some agency will be recording the activity — stronger and more direct methods may obviously be employed against targets so identified, especially by parties not formally part of the government (as in the cases of Judi Bari and Karen Silkwood, for example) and thus less subject to discovery and review.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 3:31 am

If the government decides to systematically abuse the phone metadata collection, it would just throw it onto the pile with all of their other Big Data work. Build a giant graph of every thing you know about everyone, assign numeric scores depending on what you know about their politics, their faith, their habits, their relationships between each other, etc, and apply extra scrutiny to the highest ranking people. Profiling by algorithm instead of skin pigment.

Phone metadata alone isn’t enough for such a project–but once such a project existed, phone metadata would be a useful addition.

This is, admittedly, a theoretical danger. But so is the massive plot that we would fail to catch if we dismantle this program.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 3:42 am

“This is, admittedly, a theoretical danger. But so is the massive plot that we would fail to catch if we dismantle this program.”

True. There is no real terrorist threat to the United States. I mean what are they going to do: blow up the WTC or something? Ha ha ha.
No the real danger is compromise of the security of our phone calls! Why if the Feds intercept our calls, nothing will stop them from fluoridating the water. And God forbid the security of the internet gets compromised!

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Sebastian H 01.26.14 at 3:58 am

It is already misusing the data. Using it to develop leads for the DEA and IRS is not the counter terrorism use it is advertised as. It is domestic spying for big government.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 4:03 am

“There is no real terrorist threat to the United States.”

And the United States has never abused law enforcement or intelligence powers.

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Andrew F. 01.26.14 at 12:44 pm

At the level of corruption needed for the type of misuse discussed, though, the metadata program is the least of your worries. If the federal government is able to evade the checks of the courts and Congress by repeatedly, massively, and in a well-orchestrated conspiracy, lying about what they’re doing for the sake of political intimidation, blackmail, and extortion, then the checks we have on the obtaining of search warrants and wiretaps are likewise ineffective.

My point is this. If you think judicial and Congressional checks are ineffective, then you simply don’t think government can do much at all. And we can have that discussion, but imho it’s not a credible assumption. If it is a credible assumption, then you’re probably in favor of dramatically limiting the power of the government in every possible way, as there is no way to effectively check the power of its parts.

That’s the key to understanding the radical critique of the program: the idea, to paraphrase Snowden, that there are only technical checks, i.e. strong encryption or an armed populace, on government power; political and legal checks and balances don’t work and can’t be relied upon.

That lurking assumption in so much of the rhetoric emanating from the libertarian critics is what triggers Wilentz’s sense that there’s something deeper here than the criticism of the metadata program.

That lurking assumption is what unites Snowden and Paul and Assange (I’m much more hesitant at this point to attribute it to Greenwald, whose tactical acumen as an advocate can obscure the precise nature of his views).

Liberals hear the libertarians speaking in terms familiar to themselves: distrust of government and power, the need to verify, the possibility of abuse by authority. And liberals believe, mistakenly, that the libertarians are making the same type of claim.

But they’re not. There’s a huge difference between the reasonable distrust of liberalism, which allows for a rich institutional structure of government, needed, desired, and necessary in a modern economy, and the radical distrust of the libertarians, which views government as susceptible to limitation only by depriving it as completely as possible of any power and by locating more substantial power elsewhere (private firearms, private firms).

Be wary of giving the radical distrust of the libertarians too much credence, since in doing so one undermines arguments on a variety of subjects far, far more important than this metadata program.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 1:46 pm

Andrew F @ 540

What were those 54 cases? He doesn’t say. How did the program help in those 54 cases? He doesn’t say, at least not in 42 cases. In the other 12, he says “Section 215 contributed to our overall understanding and help to the FBI”. But Section 215 covers a lot of ground, well beyond the metadata program. Why not say clearly it was the metadata program? Why mention cases with no US ‘nexus’? Why mention cases where 215 wasn’t involved? Why not say 215 cracked those 12 cases?

Because he’s trying to inflate the utility of the program, in order to justify it. Put another way, he’s lying. Can you find any report from any body which corroborates Alexander’s statements on this?

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Layman 01.26.14 at 1:49 pm

” If the federal government is able to evade the checks of the courts and Congress by repeatedly, massively, and in a well-orchestrated conspiracy, lying about what they’re doing for the sake of political intimidation, blackmail, and extortion, then the checks we have on the obtaining of search warrants and wiretaps are likewise ineffective.”

If the criminal justice system used the FISA courts to obtain such warrants, you’d be right. Isn’t that what we’re complaining about?

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Layman 01.26.14 at 2:06 pm

“True. There is no real terrorist threat to the United States. I mean what are they going to do: blow up the WTC or something? Ha ha ha.”

This national pants-wetting over terrorism really needs to stop. In 2001, 14 times as many Americans were killed in traffic accidents than in the WTC. 10 times as many were killed by guns. Between January 2001 and the end of 2013, more Americans have been killed accidentally by guns than in all acts of terrorism combined, including 9/11. More people are killed in industrial accidents every year than were killed on 9/11.

There’s no evidence these secret programs have any beneficial effect on the problem. It is a law enforcement matter, addressable with law enforcement methods. There’s no need for this abject fear and unreasoning flight from the rule of law.

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Ed Herdman 01.26.14 at 2:40 pm

Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that some level of post-2001 security vigilance has had a good impact on the security of the US – there’s been a lot of attempted bombings foiled and no major plot has succeeded since. The only way to dismiss that evidence is to believe that WTC was an inside job and all the plots uncovered were just faked.

I agree that we’ve been spending far too much on it, though – the evidence for that is sketchier, but given some common sense, it’s clear that the huge increase in the security apparatus and private sector contracts (many of which are duplicating each others’ efforts) is a gigantic money pit.

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Ed Herdman 01.26.14 at 2:43 pm

Also, given the sliding around of the subject of the “methods” being discussed – “secret programs” vs. regular law enforcement methods – exactly what steps are being taken at which agencies is just as opaque as anything, so any claim that we have direct evidence of the uselessness of secret programs is actually false. You can have conjectures but we need to recognize that there’s dogma on both sides here, and unfortunately the secret state doesn’t allow much sunlight in to decide.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 2:46 pm

“There’s no evidence these secret programs have any beneficial effect on the problem. It is a law enforcement matter, addressable with law enforcement methods. There’s no need for this abject fear and unreasoning flight from the rule of law.”

Congress passed a law setting up FISA courts. Your disagreement with this law does not make it a non-law.

One of the things I most love about this debate is the idealized view of the criminal justice system in the United States that our libertarian comrades insist upon. FISA judges are “rubber stamps” because, apparently, getting warrants from other judges is such a rigorous process. In a nation where people are being routinely jailed by state/municipal courts acting as debt collection agencies, where the cops execute people on a routine basis, and where murdering a teenage kid is not a crime but defending yourself against an abuser is a crime, our Glibertarian Moral Leaders insist that removing phone records from the careful management of Verizon to the UN, I mean the Feds, is should incite shudders of fear and indignation. Indeed.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 2:55 pm

“Actually, there’s plenty of evidence that some level of post-2001 security vigilance has had a good impact on the security of the US – there’s been a lot of attempted bombings foiled and no major plot has succeeded since. The only way to dismiss that evidence is to believe that WTC was an inside job and all the plots uncovered were just faked.”

On your first point, there are programs and there are programs. I’m talking about torture, extraordinary rendition, detention, & secret domestic spying. There’s been no evidence these programs are efficacious. They are not credited with success in any of the uncovered plots; isn’t that right?

Your second point is just silliness. There’s a yawning chasm between the two alternatives – that these programs work or it has all been a con – full of other alternatives. Perhaps more vigilance combined with conventional programs & methods have helped?

As to plots being faked, it has to be said that some of the foiled plots we learn about seem barely serious. I don’t say they are faked, but I do think some were wildly unlikely to go forward, and others were incompetent actors being empowered & encouraged by federal agents in order to precipitate an arrest.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 2:59 pm

“so any claim that we have direct evidence of the uselessness of secret programs is actually false”

I’m not sure it is possible to prove the program is useless – you can’t prove a negative & all that. But it seems to be the case that there’s no evidence it is useful. Isn’t that the more reasonable measure?

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Anarcissie 01.26.14 at 3:01 pm

Andrew F. 01.26.14 at 12:44 pm @ 346:
‘… Be wary of giving the radical distrust of the libertarians too much credence, since in doing so one undermines arguments on a variety of subjects far, far more important than this metadata program.

In other words, if we don’t allow the ruling class its imperial wars and police-state surveillance (and sometimes enforcement) — the Bismarckian deal — then they’ll take away Welfare and multitudes will be reduced to destitution and die in the streets. There are critics of this theory besides libertarians, however.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 3:01 pm

If you think judicial and Congressional checks are ineffective, then you simply don’t think government can do much at all.

This is idiotic. No, I don’t think the public can rely on secret courts and legislative committees acting in secret, because those institutions are designed to rely on adversarial processes and public accountability. I think the government can be both trustworthy and effective when acting in public.

Yes, when a program must be operated in secret, I demand that the broad outlines of the program be public and that technical checks force the secret program to adhere to public law. This has absolutely nothing to do with libertarianism–one could imagine a anti-libertarian utopia in which the central planning algorithms are implemented in formally verified code guaranteeing that resources are distributed according to some agreed upon standard.

Liberals are not required to have faith in illiberal programs operated by illiberal means. No matter how much Wilentz or AndrewF wish logic worded that way, it doesn’t.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 3:03 pm

“Congress passed a law setting up FISA courts. Your disagreement with this law does not make it a non-law.”

You’re ignorant about FISA. No part of FISA authorizes these programs. The administration claims the Patriot Act authorizes these programs, but that claim is the subject if some legal dispute even as we discuss it. As to your construction above, Congress passed DOMA, but it turns out DOMA was a non-law. Oops.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 3:12 pm

FISA judges are “rubber stamps” because, apparently, getting warrants from other judges is such a rigorous process.

Apparently, it was too much rigor for the people who set up the FISA courts.

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Steve Newcomb 01.26.14 at 3:19 pm

Dear Andrew F.:

I think you are right, except, possibly, for “…far, far more important than this metadata program.” The potential of unchecked power is pretty awesome. Unchecked power corrupts everything, without limit. Nothing is sacred.

What would you put in the “far, far more important” (or at least competitive in importance) category? The only thing I can think of is the unchecked use of money to control those who actually wield power: the campaign finance crisis.

There’s a symmetry, here: a perfect storm, or, rather, a perfect system of bondage. In the case of NSA spying, we have unchecked power over information moving *from* the electorate. In the case of the campaign finance mess, we have unchecked power over information moving *toward* the electorate. In both cases, the electorate loses its natural power to the already-powerful. Those who have the gold, rule, and they tend to rule rather badly. Slavery corrupts the slave-owner; he becomes pitiable. In the end, what was it all about, really?

The founders themselves were not united on the issue of whether slavery was good or bad. Personally, however, I don’t like slavery, although it’s quite true that freedom is far less morally comfortable; illusions and lies are generally preferred. (The founders’ insistence on freedom of religion was truly brilliant, and possibly their greatest achievement.)

I don’t trust the people, but being one of them, what choice do I have? What choice does anyone have? Divided, we are enslaved, the more so, now, because technology has annihilated most of the formerly-protective aspects of physical distance. Everyone is now stewing in all manner of global propaganda, the bulk of it designed to shore up the establishment, while everyone’s privacy is, for all practical purposes, gone.

So now what? What, after all, is sacred? Can any comforting illusions hopes and goals unite us? How about “The Rule Of Law”? (I.e., the hope that laws can be designed and executed in such a way as to benefit every member of every future generation.)

I fervently agree with you that the soi-disant “Libertarian” position of shrinking the government until it can be drowned in the bathtub reflects a poor grasp of reality. That’s not the sky, up there. That’s a roof, an artifice, an invention. It needs constant maintenance and occasional replacement in order to keep the rain off. Our 225-year-old roof can even be replaced, for the very first time, using newer roofing technology that keeps more of us safe, dry, and at liberty to achieve more of our potential. See Article V of the U.S. Constitution.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 3:33 pm

“Glibertarian Moral Leaders insist that removing phone records from the careful management of Verizon to the UN”

You should try to address your comments to people’s arguments rather than try to label the people themselves. It should be irrelevant to this conversation, but for what it’s worth I’m a lifelong Democrat, an unrepentant liberal, and I despise libertarianism. I supported this President financially twice & voted for him twice, and would probably do so again were that possible; but that doesn’t make me blind to his failings.

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Kaveh 01.26.14 at 3:35 pm

Ed Herdman @551 You can have conjectures but we need to recognize that there’s dogma on both sides here, and unfortunately the secret state doesn’t allow much sunlight in to decide.

This is an important point that was getting lost. If mass surveillance is such a great idea, why go to such lengths to hide it from the public, given that other kinds of surveillance (phone tapping) have always been common knowledge and that has not rendered them ineffective? Part of the scandal is that they wanted to, and really believed they could keep something like that secret be trusted.

And of course, another big part of the scandal that AndrewF and Elisee have said nothing about is undermining of security standards.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 4:06 pm

“I supported this President financially twice & voted for him twice, and would probably do so again were that possible; but that doesn’t make me blind to his failings. “

I have a number of critiques of this President and of NSA for that matter, they just don’t happen to be based on Libertarian fantasies or directed by Libertarian “thought leaders”. I don’t care about metadata. I do care about ICE. I don’t care about FISA courts – I do care about the arbitrary nature of no-fly-lists. I don’t care about NSA spying, I do care about failure to protect abortion clinics against domestic terrorism and failure to use law enforcement against Right Wing treason. I’m far less concerned about big Federal government than outsourced prison and security, not to mention out of control city and state police forces.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 4:14 pm

“I have a number of critiques of this President and of NSA for that matter, they just don’t happen to be based on Libertarian fantasies or directed by Libertarian ‘thought leaders’.

Neither are ours, as amply explained above. You don’t actually have a coherent point, you just want to misrepresent other people. You’re a troll who showed up to fill the vacuum created when the other trolls were forced out. That’s all.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 4:42 pm

Excuse me, that’s simply not true. There are zero indications that NSA abused the metadata. All we have are libertarian nostrums about the potential for abuse and the horrible untrammeled power of the Federal Government and libertarian alarmism about how letting the BIG BAD FEDERAL GOVERNMENT access data already accumulated and stored and searched and probably sold by giant corporations is DEEPLY ALARMING for some obscure reason and threatens the purity of our wonderful slaver Constitution.

You don’t have what anyone 20 years ago would have called a leftist critique of NSA/FISA, you have a libertarian critique in drag.

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Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 4:54 pm

There are zero indications that NSA abused the metadata.

And zero indications that it saved any lives.

Your trolling has zero logical content.

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Layman 01.26.14 at 4:56 pm

“You don’t have what anyone 20 years ago would have called a leftist critique of NSA/FISA, you have a libertarian critique in drag.”

There you go again – you don’t address people’s actual arguments, you just label them ‘libertarian’ and mock them.

What, in your view, is the legal basis which permits the government to compel telecoms to turn over all calling metadata. Please articulate it. If you cannot, do you still say it is legal?

567

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 5:01 pm

“And zero indications that it saved any lives.”

So what? Why do we care? Only if we accept the Glibertarian premise that government access to corporate data is inherently a violation of the purity of the Slaveholder Constitution. But I do not. So the best you can do is that NSA accessed some corporate data and does not appear to have used it effectively. Big deal.

“Your trolling has zero logical content. “
The only thing that the “left” has retained from its previous analysis is a fondness for attempting to set a political line so that any deviation can be denounced. Here we have a supposed left wing critique of government action that has zero interest in power structures, class, race, or gender, but a familiar libertarian focus on Constitutional Fetishization and process.

568

Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 5:32 pm

Why do we care?

We’re worried, as all reasonable liberals would, that government might abuse secret power, given its record of tending to do so against the already underprivileged.

I support the efforts in the EU to restrict corporations and the efforts in the US to restrict secret government surveillance programs. That, by definition, disqualifies my position from being a libertarian one. You can disagree with my position, but you can’t call me a libertarian if you care about the truth at all, which is very much in doubt.

569

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 7:32 pm

“We’re worried, as all reasonable liberals would, that government might abuse secret power, given its record of tending to do so against the already underprivileged. “

Well, for sure for part of this. Which is why liberals like Al Franken call for more safeguards on the use of the power. Libertarians say that government cannot be trusted with the power – as a matter of principle. However, Franken’s position is generally ignored or derided by Snowden/Greenwald/Assange. People like me, I dunno how to characterize myself, are more interested in seizing power than in what seems like a counterproductive campaign against government power in itself. That’s why e.g. vote suppression and corporate money in campaigns (something Greenwald supports as a free speech right) trouble us far more than NSA.

I don’t say you are a libertarian. I say you have accepted the premises of the libertarian analysis without dealing with the ramifications of that argument. And that is what Wilentz says as well.

570

Anarcissie 01.26.14 at 8:00 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 7:32 pm @ 569:
‘… People like me, I dunno how to characterize myself, are more interested in seizing power than in what seems like a counterproductive campaign against government power in itself. …’

Well, that’s the problem.

571

Layman 01.26.14 at 8:02 pm

“I say you have accepted the premises of the libertarian analysis without dealing with the ramifications of that argument.”

Who cares? What’s the legal basis for metadata collection program?

572

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 9:57 pm

Legal basis? They had a Court order. Jesus. Feel free to disagree with the legal reasoning of the FISA Court, the FISA powers granted by Congress, decisions like Smith v. Maryland, 100 years of precedent on envelopes, Judge DeLeon etc etc. but don’t pretend that Greenwald’s bullshit is a consensus legal analysis.

@570 But don’t you think that’s peculiar: you are all about leftist rhetorical flourishes (“ruling class … imperial wars … “) and at the same time about legal niceties. The legal system is merely a codification of the system of exploitation and dominance, no? It peculiar that you keep talking in revolutionary slogans in the cause of some milquetoast legalistic liberalism. For me the Constitution means what power makes it mean, nothing more or less.

573

Consumatopia 01.26.14 at 10:40 pm

People like me, I dunno how to characterize myself, are more interested in seizing power than in what seems like a counterproductive campaign against government power in itself.

You can rationally take that position, and lots of people do, but you can’t say that everyone who disagrees must “despise the modern liberal state”, as Wilentz wrote. Indeed, I think the opposite makes as much sense–you may not like the Constitution, and goodness knows I would write it very differently if I had the chance, but it’s certainly part of the modern liberal state, right?

My fundamental, deep-in-my-bones premise is that there is a rational way for a group of people to govern themselves. That doesn’t mean non-coercively–unlike libertarians, I realize that property and exchange are forms of coercion. But it does imply a preference for transparency and public discussion: anyone employing force against their neighbor should be prepared to explain themselves to the rest of their neighbors.

I described @332 some problems I have with the way libertarians are leading this discussion. But I can’t accept that everything boils down to how I can get more power for my faction. I’m a liberal, not a Bolshevik.

574

Anarcissie 01.26.14 at 10:51 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 9:57 pm @ 572:
‘… @570 But don’t you think that’s peculiar: you are all about leftist rhetorical flourishes (“ruling class … imperial wars … “) and at the same time about legal niceties. The legal system is merely a codification of the system of exploitation and dominance, no? It peculiar that you keep talking in revolutionary slogans in the cause of some milquetoast legalistic liberalism. For me the Constitution means what power makes it mean, nothing more or less.’

I’ve been discussing the Constitution and other elements of milquetoast legalistic liberalism because that is the predominant ideological framework in this venue. Part of my usual game is to show that liberalism is indeed a system of exploitation and domination, and will never produce the freedom and equality it advertises; but now you’ve gone and taken the net down. Oh, well. So, what have you got against classical slavery? You’ve associated the Constitution with slavery it what seemed like a disparaging manner, so I’m assuming you think it’s bad, but a political order based entirely on power ought to include many levels of it, with powerless slaves on the bottom, no?

575

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 11:14 pm

All political orders are based on power – often expressed via custom, law, etc. But, ultimately, the Fugitive Slave Act was Constitutional until General Grant’s army extrajudicially assassinated hundreds of thousands of Confederates, laws limiting working hours were unconstitutional until unions and political parties changed the composition of the courts, … The question of how you increase social justice is not easy to answer. For some of us, the best answer is incremental reform based on winning political and economic power where possible. For some, such as you, this strategy is doomed to failure and we should just sit back and wait for the crackup or the revolution or Jesus whatever comes first. But at least we should be able to agree that the governmental document written by 18th century slaveowners does not have coded in it some magical answer ordained by Mystical Founders that defines what access the national government should have to telephone electronic metadata databases.

576

Andrew F. 01.26.14 at 11:31 pm

Layman @547: What were those 54 cases? He doesn’t say. [...] Because he’s trying to inflate the utility of the program, in order to justify it. Put another way, he’s lying. Can you find any report from any body which corroborates Alexander’s statements on this?

Whoa. Layman, this was me:

According to Gen. Alexander, the metadata program “contributed to our overall understanding” and was of “help to the FBI” in 12 terrorist “events.”

and this is you in response:

Yes, but apparently he was lying

So we went around about that, and it turns out of course that, contrary to the article you cited, Leahy merely used Alexander’s figures in asking his questions and never showed, or claimed, that Alexander was lying.

Now your claim is that Alexander is being vague (and that being vague, somehow, constitutes lying – you’re rather vague as to how). Beyond specifying the number of events in which the Section 215 program helped, he is indeed being vague because the details of those cases are classified. So what?

577

Anarcissie 01.26.14 at 11:46 pm

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.26.14 at 11:14 pm @ 575 — The Constitution is not magical, but I think the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment set out certain markers which, when crossed by government (or others), indicate that some sort of attack on people’s freedom and well-being, including mine, is going on. And as most Americans are liberals of one sort or another, if I want to find allies to resist that aggression, I have to talk to the liberals using their language. The fact that the Constitution was written by slaveowners seems irrelevant to this rather basic concern. We are not going to get rid of coercive property relations by allowing power addicts to set up some kind of Panopticon.

578

Cranky Observer 01.27.14 at 12:03 am

= = = Elisee Reclus Jr. @ 4:42 pm
Excuse me, that’s simply not true. There are zero indications that NSA abused the metadata.= = =

= = = = = = http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/apr/28/usa.comment
The Bolton confirmation hearings have revealed his constant efforts to undermine Powell on Iran and Iraq, Syria and North Korea. They have also exposed a most curious incident that has triggered the administration’s stonewall reflex. The foreign relations committee has discovered that Bolton made a highly unusual request and gained access to 10 intercepts by the National Security Agency, which monitors worldwide communications, of conversations involving past and present government officials. Whose conversations did Bolton secretly secure and why?

Staff members on the committee believe that Bolton was probably spying on Powell, his senior advisers and other officials reporting to him on diplomatic initiatives that Bolton opposed. If so, it is also possible that Bolton was sharing this top-secret information with his neoconservative allies within the Pentagon and the vice-president’s office, with whom he was in daily contact and who were known to be working in league against Powell. = = = = = =

I’m sure Andrew F. has an explanation for why Bolton’s words didn’t mean what he said, and in the alternative why it wasn’t really a violation of numerous laws and the Constitution for Bolton and Cheney to be using national security assets to spy on political opponents (probably something to do with them being in same political party + Cheney having granted himself plenipotentiary 4th branch of government powers).

Cranky

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 12:11 am

“You can rationally take that position, and lots of people do, but you can’t say that everyone who disagrees must “despise the modern liberal state”, as Wilentz wrote. Indeed, I think the opposite makes as much sense–you may not like the Constitution, and goodness knows I would write it very differently if I had the chance, but it’s certainly part of the modern liberal state, right? “

The constitution is part of the modern liberal state, but only because the exercise of political power has defined it in that way. Until FDR and unions intimidated the courts, the Constitution forbade labor laws. The meaning of the Constitution changes depending on who holds power and what they consider to be just. What Wilentz argues is that the meaning of the Constitution proposed by Greenwald and friends is not compatible with the modern liberal state.

“But I can’t accept that everything boils down to how I can get more power for my faction. I’m a liberal, not a Bolshevik.”

The libertarian argument is that government cannot be trusted with power. My argument is that the right cannot be trusted with power and that believing that liberal institutions will continue to operate as liberal institutions when that “faction” is in power is naive.

580

Consumatopia 01.27.14 at 12:53 am

What Wilentz argues is that the meaning of the Constitution proposed by Greenwald and friends is not compatible with the modern liberal state.

In the case of Greenwald, he doesn’t have any evidence for that claim. Greenwald can’t be assumed to agree with Assange’s radical views.

The libertarian argument is that government cannot be trusted with power. My argument is that the right cannot be trusted with power and that believing that liberal institutions will continue to operate as liberal institutions when that “faction” is in power is naive.

Those aren’t the only two views. No one faction is ever totally “in power”. Bush had all branches of government, but still couldn’t privatize social security. He abused his power, but he didn’t call a halt to elections and make himself president for life. Under your logic, maybe Obama should do that? Maybe he should tell all of his followers to buy as many guns as they could, and do whatever they could to gain power over other factions? When, in your view, does it make sense to adhere to procedural norms?

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Matt 01.27.14 at 1:05 am

The libertarian argument is that government cannot be trusted with power. My argument is that the right cannot be trusted with power and that believing that liberal institutions will continue to operate as liberal institutions when that “faction” is in power is naive.

If libertarians believe that the government cannot be trusted with any power, people who oppose libertarians must believe the government can be trusted with every power? That’s one hell of an excluded middle.

If you oppose FDR’s executive order 9066 forcing Japanese-Americans into camps it’s because you don’t think Japan is actually dangerous, or it’s just a stepping stone on the way to stripping the executive of power so billionaires can rule unchecked.

582

Andrew F. 01.27.14 at 1:24 am

Elisee @ 569: I don’t say you are a libertarian. I say you have accepted the premises of the libertarian analysis without dealing with the ramifications of that argument. And that is what Wilentz says as well.

Well said.

Consum: No, I don’t think the public can rely on secret courts and legislative committees acting in secret, because those institutions are designed to rely on adversarial processes and public accountability. I think the government can be both trustworthy and effective when acting in public.

Grand jury investigations are confidential (including with respect to any recipients of subpoenas, in some cases). Judges review applications for search warrants secretly. Classified information within a judicial proceeding is subject to the Classified Information Procedures Act which, as it turns out, requires reviews by the court in secret. So lots of things that the government does are kept confidential with respect to the public.

What’s important here is that the judiciary be independent, that a diversity of political interests are aware of the program and have oversight of it, and that agencies focused on corruption and official malfeasance are well supported.

Would disclosure to the public be an additional check? Not significantly in this case, because the search terms used by the government are (for obvious reasons) confidential. Who in the government has access to the results of the searches? That’s kept confidential as well. So there is no way for the public to detect a corrupt use of the program simply by knowing of the existence of the program.

As to the usefulness of the program – that’s tough to say. Critics actually briefed on its use say that the information gleaned could have been obtained through “traditional” methods. And that’s certainly true – any information obtained by this program would also be information that can be obtained by a subpoena from a grand jury.

But the critics miss – or pretend to miss – the point of the program, I suspect. This is a program designed to facilitate certainty of scope and speed of inquiry – it’s not designed to collect new types of information. It means not relying on a phone company to execute your search terms correctly or to preserve records adequately, not having to disclose your search terms to various private firms, and if speed and scope are critical – as they could be at some point – having the critical capabilities at hand.

For anyone who accepts the premises of radical distrust, however, all of that is irrelevant. You can’t trust “them”, no matter how many checks and balances are present. And if I can’t trust three branches of government to stop each other from abusing a collection of business records subject to multiple levels of oversight, why should I trust “the bureaucrats in Washington” with anything related to my health-care?

583

Haree 01.27.14 at 1:42 am

I like the headline to the article. Evoking the National Enquirer, it asks through gritted teeth if you would like Snowden et al, if you only knew the deep, dirty secrets they hold. Do you know about your neighbors? You thought they were friendly at the barbecue this summer, but do you know about all the skeletons in their closet?

I actually see a bit of snobbishness in this. A lot of time is spent evaluating their background and implying they’re gratingly lowbrow for the positions they held at some point, or currently hold. And Greenwald posted on message boards, the little dope, even he went to law school and should have known better. What’s the big scandal in pointing out that these people don’t have it all figured out? Would it make the contents of the Wikileaks website any different if Assange didn’t talk like, uh, a strange futurist theorist or something all the time?

A critical thinking exercise: Has anyone been right 100% of the time, past, future, and present? And if they were wrong about things completely remote from the present discussion, what’s the relevance of it to the topic at hand?

584

Consumatopia 01.27.14 at 2:28 am

I say you have accepted the premises of the libertarian analysis without dealing with the ramifications of that argument. And that is what Wilentz says as well.

I explicitly discussed the problems with those premises and their ramifications @332.

So lots of things that the government does are kept confidential with respect to the public.

As I said @457, “I don’t have a detailed theory on this, but I’m a lot more tolerant of small or time-limited secrets. ” Your grand jury can be secret, but before you convict anyone you should have to publicly show your evidence. There might need to be exceptions, but they are currently deployed far too often. A database of all phone metadata in the U.S. over the course of years is not small, and the government did not intend it to be time-limited–but thankfully, their illiberal impulses were thwarted.

What’s important here is that the judiciary be independent, that a diversity of political interests are aware of the program and have oversight of it, and that agencies focused on corruption and official malfeasance are well supported.

I went into the problems with this view @458. But that aside, it would definitely be possible to provide much, much better guarantees that this program isn’t being abused (if it has to exist at all, which I don’t think it should, see my proposed alternative @396.)

We should not know the specific queries made to the database, but the kinds of queries and the kinds of intentions the government has in making them. The government has given the example of a known suspected terrorist who switches between several phones. Fine, then make it so the only query you can make of the database is “which other phones is the same person who used this phone using?” Make it explicitly illegal to use the database for any other purpose. If the government has other uses in mind, they should be explicitly described in public law. This imposes some costs on the law enforcement/intelligence work. Just like the burden of following the law imposes costs on any other government agency–if Kathleen Sebelius could implement any health care system she wanted, she would be able to save many more lives than the NSA or Pentagon is likely to. (But then, just as with the NSA, I would worry about what her successor would do with the same power.)

Anyway, I’ve spent way too much time dealing with anti-liberal authoritarians telling me I’m anti-liberal. You guys have done nothing but mis-characterize our positions, over and over again. You keep talking about what “premises” we’re using, but then you describe logic that’s completely alien to ours. ‘You can’t trust “them”, no matter how many checks and balances are present.’ Bullcrap. I, and others, have repeatedly said I would find this program tolerable (if misguided) with a different set of checks and balances (190, 396, probably others). There’s no sense engaging with either of you on this, because there’s no relationship between the position you claim I have and my actual position. Bye.

585

Andrew F. 01.27.14 at 10:38 am

Consum: Your grand jury can be secret, but before you convict anyone you should have to publicly show your evidence. There might need to be exceptions, but they are currently deployed far too often.

And just as in a grand jury investigation, were any of the information collected to be actually used in prosecuting someone, it would have to be disclosed (possibly subject to the CIPA).

A database of all phone metadata in the U.S. over the course of years is not small, and the government did not intend it to be time-limited–but thankfully, their illiberal impulses were thwarted.

Which part of the government are we talking about? The judiciary (the government) placed the 5 year expiration on results from database queries.

As to the size of the database, a grand jury can subpoena every phone and internet provider in the country. I don’t see why the latter isn’t as concerning, especially since – unlike the highly controlled metadata program – we know with certainty that grand jury powers have been subject to abuse.

We should not know the specific queries made to the database, but the kinds of queries and the kinds of intentions the government has in making them.

We do know this.

The government has given the example of a known suspected terrorist who switches between several phones. Fine, then make it so the only query you can make of the database is “which other phones is the same person who used this phone using?”

Well, the database is stripped of any names, addresses, etc. But the government can make the same queries of the database that a grand jury would of various telecom companies – only in the case of the database, the queries are automatically subject to review by the FISC, and the queries must actually be narrower in purpose than would a subpoena.

As to the logic and rhetoric you yourself are using, I’ve said nothing about it. My point has been that the rationale that Assange and Snowden, and to a certain extent Greenwald, have been using is a form of radical distrust which leaves in its implications little room for many important government institutions.

586

Layman 01.27.14 at 11:13 am

Andrew F @ 576

“Now your claim is that Alexander is being vague (and that being vague, somehow, constitutes lying – you’re rather vague as to how.”

No, now my claim is that you’re being deliberately obtuse. Vagueness is a form of deception. Alexander talks about 54, when it seems 42 are irrelevant. Then he talks about 12, when it seems 11 are irrelevant. Then he talks about 1. If there was 1 example, what was the point if claiming first 54, then 12, then 1? Because the headline for that speech will be 54.

As to the 1, it seems that’s not true either. It’s perfectly clear that the metadata program hasn’t produced any successes.

“Based on the information provided to the Board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a terrorism investigation.”

Not 1. Not 12. Not 54.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2014/jan/23/privacy-civil-liberties-board-nsa-report-text

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Layman 01.27.14 at 11:39 am

“But the government can make the same queries of the database that a grand jury would of various telecom companies – only in the case of the database, the queries are automatically subject to review by the FISC, and the queries must actually be narrower in purpose than would a subpoena.”

This is false on several levels. First, the ’3 hops’ approach permitted to NSA – where one may retrieve all data associated with 1 number, and then all the data associated with those numbers, then all the data associated with those numbers – would be unlikely to pass judicial muster outside of FISA.

Second, there is no judicial pre-determination that there’s any probable cause to query a number at all, as this authority rests with any 1 of some 22 NSA employees.

Third, when telecoms deliver new data each day, all prior queries are re-run to capture any new associated calling records, so this subpoena amounts to a perpetual warrant, both in the sense that the demand for data is ongoing, and in the sense that the particular authorized queries are perpetually authorized.

Fourth, once a particular number has been the result of a query, all records for that number go into a different database, and there are no longer any constraints on how that data may be queried or used. They become part of the ‘corporate store’, may be analyzed, merged with other data, and shared with other agencies. To be clear, there is no judicial oversight of how this information is used at all.

The PCLOB report estimates that the ‘corporate store’ may contain the calling records of 120 million phone numbers, based on volumes of queries provided them by NSA.

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Layman 01.27.14 at 11:42 am

“Which part of the government are we talking about? The judiciary (the government) placed the 5 year expiration on results from database queries.”

This is false. Any record which is the result of a 3-hop query becomes part of a permanent database. There is no expiration or purge requirement.

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Layman 01.27.14 at 11:48 am

“Legal basis? They had a Court order. Jesus. Feel free to disagree with the legal reasoning of the FISA Court, the FISA powers granted by Congress, decisions like Smith v. Maryland, 100 years of precedent on envelopes, Judge DeLeon etc etc. but don’t pretend that Greenwald’s bullshit is a consensus legal analysis.”

For someone with such strong views on this, you’re awfully ignorant about it, aren’t you?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2014/jan/23/privacy-civil-liberties-board-nsa-report-text

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Jim Henley 01.27.14 at 1:09 pm

This isn’t a conundrum. The liberal state is incompatible with sweeping surveillance prerogatives. Surveillance has always been a key element of social control in authoritarian and colonial regimes. Surveillance lets the PTB neuter dissent by blackmail over personal details and selective enforcement of cherry-picked, otherwise dormant, criminal-code violations. The surveillance state opens any would-be organizer for progressive causes with an imperfect life to extortion, and everybody – see the title of this blog – lives an imperfect life.

We do not even have to adduce slippery slopes here: we already live in a country in which federal and local law enforcement work hand-in-glove with corporate security departments to vitiate protests. We can see how promiscuously elites apply terms like “terrorism” and treason. Then we can note that the NSA will not say it doesn’t spy on lawmakers and consider that even its most determined critics in Congress have not availed themselves of the immunity powers that their predecessors did in the Pentagon Papers/Church Committee era.

We joke, with some justice, that “conservatism” has collapsed into support for anything liberals dislike. Wilentz and his defenders are their counterparts: impelled to support anything they think “libertarians” oppose. They’ll help destroy the liberal state by defending the panopticon state from bogeymen.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 2:01 pm

@588 You asked for the legal basis. I told you that they had a court order. Here, read the report you cited:

Under one, the NSA collects telephone call records or metadata — but not
the content of phone conversations — covering the calls of most Americans on an ongoing
basis, subject to renewed approvals by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (“FISC”
or “FISA court”). This program was approved by the FISC pursuant to Section 215 of the
USA PATRIOT Act (“Patriot Act”)
.

They had a court order. The board and two different Federal Appeals Court Judges offer different interpretations whether this court order was correct or correctly applied. However, even the report you cite says: Over the years, a series of compliance issues were brought to the attention of the FISA court by the government. However, none of these compliance issues involved significant intentional misuse of the system. Nor has the Board seen any evidence of bad
faith or misconduct on the part of any government officials or agents involved with the
program.

So while you are certainly able to argue that the FISA judge and the Appeals Court are wrong, your question implies a level of government misbehavior that nothing in the record supports. Essentially we are back to Libertarian Logic where the GUBMINT is assumed to be bent on crushing the independent spirit of the unfortunate citizenry.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 2:16 pm

This isn’t a conundrum. The liberal state is incompatible with sweeping surveillance prerogatives. Surveillance has always been a key element of social control in authoritarian and colonial regimes. Surveillance lets the PTB neuter dissent by blackmail over personal details and selective enforcement of cherry-picked, otherwise dormant, criminal-code violations. The surveillance state opens any would-be organizer for progressive causes with an imperfect life to extortion, and everybody – see the title of this blog – lives an imperfect life.

One could easily argue the reverse. The liberal state is incompatible with the privatization of public life via excessive secrecy and the application of reactionary doctrines of property rights to public speech. While to the libertarian, the actions of a person communicating over a common carrier are private and the actions of an innkeeper operating his or her inn are similarly private, the liberal understands that democracy is fundamentally about the public life and there is no right to “use the community roads in secret”. One cannot expect to conduct a criminal operation on the communications highway in private anymore than one could expect to launder money in the banking system or refuse service in a restaurant based on race or gender or sexual orientation. And it clearly is the responsibility of the government to police the use of these public venues – as it is the responsibility of the public to make sure that such policing is subject to appropriate oversight and limits. We want the government to intervene when a person is refused service in a hotel on the basis of race and at the same time we are properly cautious about the government tracking every citizen’s every hotel stay. We don’t find the hysterical arguments of the neo-confederates about the inevitability of government tyranny deriving from the regulation of public accommodations persuasive and would be naive to believe they are offered in good faith.

593

Layman 01.27.14 at 2:37 pm

“You asked for the legal basis. I told you that they had a court order. Here, read the report you cited:”

I’m not asking you why the telecoms turned over the data, i.e. “They had a court order.” I’m asking you to articulate the reasoning by which you determine the court orders to be lawful. Or are all court orders lawful, by definition?

594

Kaveh 01.27.14 at 2:57 pm

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140124/07511725976/fisa-court-waited-until-after-snowden-leaks-to-actually-explore-if-bulk-phone-record-collection-was-legal.shtml

It would seem that that legal authority was only obtained after the Snowden leaks: FISA Court Waited Until After Snowden Leaks To Actually Explore If Bulk Phone Record Collection Was Legal

595

Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 3:01 pm

You can read Judge Deleon’s decision for an argument as to why the court order was correct. But that’s not at point. NSA went to a Congressionally defined court of appropriate jurisdiction and the Court provided an order on what appears to be a good faith interpretation of the law. One can argue that the Court was wrong, or even that the law is unconstitutional – maybe persuasively. But the government, at least in this case, has obviously tried to follow the law and remain within Congressionally mandated processes.

596

Kaveh 01.27.14 at 3:14 pm

Yes Elisee, but maybe it would be more credible if they did that before they built the program, and not after people got mad about it?

597

Anarcissie 01.27.14 at 3:37 pm

Jim Henley 01.27.14 at 1:09 pm @ 589:

‘This isn’t a conundrum. The liberal state is incompatible with sweeping surveillance prerogatives. Surveillance has always been a key element of social control in authoritarian and colonial regimes. …’

Actually, I think the authoritarians are correct, in that liberalism requires government surveillance, and many other forms of power. The economic system of liberalism is capitalism; capitalism requires a class system; a class system can be maintained only by superior force. Periodically, the managers of liberal systems, their ruling classes, must take off the mask of freedom and equality and get the nasty business done, and so we have slavery, genocide, colonialism, anti-combination laws, Red Scares, the NSA, a gigantic military establishment, and so on, in spite of Mr. Locke. From their point of view (and mine, although I have different values and intentions) people who take the freedom and equality parts of liberalism seriously, like libertarians and those social democratic or moderate liberals who are not clued in, are simply naive. To wise you up, they’ve given you a glimpse of one of their clubs: support the Bismarckian deal, or we’ll cut off Welfare and the poor will die in the streets. There are other clubs. They’re doing you a favor, letting you get a look at their stuff.

598

Layman 01.27.14 at 3:47 pm

“You can read Judge Deleon’s decision for an argument as to why the court order was correct.”

I can, but apparently you can’t. At least you’re unable to articulate it, or unwilling to try. It’s a lot harder than shoulding ‘Glibertarian’ at people. Funny, huh?

599

bianca steele 01.27.14 at 3:48 pm

@596
That’s exactly the central question. Can we use “liberalism” and “capitalism” interchangeably, and then does liberalism require capitalism to work unimpeded, and then if we want to interfere with the workings of capitalism do we also have to oppose liberalism? Or, to put it a different way, if we don’t want to oppose liberalism, do we have to take active steps to make sure capitalism works “without interference”? Obviously, this makes no sense. But it’s easier to talk about capitalism, because that’s where the light is (Marxists and econ majors), and because the discussion is smaller and more focused (nobody who’s neither a Marxist nor an econ major).

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 3:56 pm

“I can, but apparently you can’t. At least you’re unable to articulate it, or unwilling to try. It’s a lot harder than shoulding ‘Glibertarian’ at people. Funny, huh?”

I don’t care about the merits of DeLeon’s decision, which I do not have any particular expertise to evaluate or any religious faith in – obviously one’s interpretations of laws, even good faith interpretations can vary dramatically. I simply point out that there is no evidence that the government did not try to follow the law and there is substantial expert disagreement about whether the law was correctly interpreted. These are matters of fact that vitiate Greenwald hysteria and support e.g. Franken’s analysis. Note that we are not disagreeing about whether there should be more oversight and stricter guidelines – which is what Franken and I both support – we are disagreeing about the need for massive hysteria about the Stasi State.

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Jim Henley 01.27.14 at 4:05 pm

@Elisee:

One could easily argue the reverse. The liberal state is incompatible with the privatization of public life via excessive secrecy and the application of reactionary doctrines of property rights to public speech.

Right as far as it goes. But irrelevant. And this was the most persuasive part of your poorly paragraphed exercise in propping up bogeymen.

@Anarcissee:

Actually, I think the authoritarians are correct, in that liberalism requires government surveillance, and many other forms of power.

Just so I’m clear, do you think there’s a state system that does not require government surveillance to prop up its unjust hierarchies? Your argument re liberalism/capitalism is clear enough. I just want to understand if you think it’s only liberalism/capitalism where this need obtains. (e.g. You might think “true communism” does not; or you might believe, with the anarchists, that any state system will, and therefore the state must be smashed.)

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 4:10 pm

@595. They did.

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Elisee Reclus Jr. 01.27.14 at 4:13 pm

well, now that my poor paragraphing has been so soundly thumped, I think it is time to call a halt.

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bob mcmanus 01.27.14 at 4:20 pm

Can we use “liberalism” and “capitalism” interchangeably, and then does liberalism require capitalism to work unimpeded

No, and I certainly hope not. I do see currently existing liberal states as inextricably bound to propertarian rights, but I fervently do hope that an unpacked “liberalism”, where for example a free press can coexist with a severe diminution of private property and accumulation is both possible and foreseeable.

Whether Capitalism can exist without liberalism is a different and more complicated question. Capitalism does I think require the consent of the free laborer to the social structures that exploit her. Capitalism is also incredibly dynamic, and tendential, and requires an ever more intricate and sophisticated superstructure to increase gradients and differences for exploitation and surplus.

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Consumatopia 01.27.14 at 4:32 pm

“Which part of the government are we talking about? The judiciary (the government) placed the 5 year expiration on results from database queries.”

By time-limited secret, I meant that the secret is eventually made public (not the specific queries or the database itself, but the very existence of the database.) The government, apparently, intended to keep the database’s existence secret indefinitely.

I did not mean that the government only retains the information for a limited period of time.

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bob mcmanus 01.27.14 at 4:34 pm

Having said the above in 603, I don’t deny that there is a more radical critique of bourgeois liberal capitalism, and whether for example the “right to a free press” as a property right accruing to an individual or as a social or communal right.

This is often where some socialists, communists, and communitarians see capitalism and liberalism as theoretically intertwined, in methodological individualism.

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Layman 01.27.14 at 4:38 pm

“I don’t care about the merits of DeLeon’s decision, which I do not have any particular expertise to evaluate or any religious faith in – obviously one’s interpretations of laws, even good faith interpretations can vary dramatically.”

If you don’t know or care if the program is lawful, you shouldn’t be arguing that it is lawful. Apparently you have some broader point, but for me it is at least partially obscured by your poorly reasoned appeals to authority in the matter of the legality of the exercise.

“I simply point out that there is no evidence that the government did not try to follow the law”

Here you are wrong. The government ran the program for years with no rational legal basis at all. When they became uneasy about the legal consequences of discovery, they went looking for a legal basis. They settled on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. But what Section 215 does is permit the FBI to request existing data for from companies, for identified targets of investigations. It grants no authority to the NSA at all, and it does not provide for ongoing collection of new data as it is created by consumers, and it does not authorize the collection of data about other consumers. Despite those obvious differences, the government decided that when Congress said ‘the FBI’ they meant ‘the NSA’, and when they said ‘existing’ records they meant records not even created yet, and when they said ‘for identified targets’ they meant for everyone in the country.

Then they took it to their resident rubber-stamp body, FISC, so FISC could rule on whether every telecom record in the country, and all future telecom records in the country, was ‘relevant’ to a specific identified investigation. FISC decided it was, by inventing a new definition of ‘relevant’. ‘Relevant’ no longer means ‘directly related to’, apparently it means ‘out of mechanical necessity’. The government argued that the NSA wanted to employ a particular program of data analysis, and that to do so, they needed all telecom metadata records. Since they might one day in the future have a specific investigation where they needed to perform this analysis, and they needed every telecom metadata record to do so, that meant (to the government) that every telecom metadata record was relevant to that hypothetical future investigation.

Of course, this same ‘reasoning’ could be used to demonstrate that every record of every kind generated by every system everywhere was relevant to an ongoing terrorism investigagtion, but never mind: The poodles at FISC agreed; and they did so despite the fact that when Congress renewed 215, they had tightened the language to rule this sort of nonsense out.

Now, you can call this a good-faith effort to comply with the law if you want, but you shouldn’t expect anyone to take that seriously.

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Anarcissie 01.27.14 at 5:19 pm

@ 600 — The fundamental idea of the state is coercive, so any state would require means of coercion to exist, including surveillance. The reason I particularly mentioned liberalism-capitalism is that it is the currently predominant variety, and that its fans so often succeed in portraying it as a vehicle of freedom, equality, and prosperity, evidence and logic to the contrary notwithstanding. Yet in this discussion, a couple of people came along and simply gave the game away, a rare opportunity.

In regard to state-smashing, it seems to me that that sort of thing usually just leads to other and often worse states, so I prefer different means.

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Consumatopia 01.27.14 at 6:42 pm

I do concede that @591 has some good points that deserve a substantial response.

While to the libertarian, the actions of a person communicating over a common carrier are private and the actions of an innkeeper operating his or her inn are similarly private, the liberal understands that democracy is fundamentally about the public life and there is no right to “use the community roads in secret”. One cannot expect to conduct a criminal operation on the communications highway in private anymore than one could expect to launder money in the banking system or refuse service in a restaurant based on race or gender or sexual orientation.

Liberal support for regulation very much depends on what is being regulated. Prohibiting discrimination in restaurants or hotels–yes, definitely. But we don’t prohibit all discrimination, not even all discrimination that involves money changing hands. You can discriminate when you’re choosing a roommate. You can refuse to see movies with actors you are prejudiced against. Your church can even discriminate against ministers.

Yes,democracy is fundamentally about the public life, but some sphere of privacy is necessary for public life and democracy to be meaningful. Otherwise you could have an Emperor’s New Clothes situation–everyone is expressing something that no one is genuinely thinking because everyone is afraid of expressing dissent.

It may well be that future technology could change the logistics of law enforcement so much that we will be forced to choose between mass surveillance and anarchy. In my view, the greatest tragedy of the War on Terror is that the U.S. government demonstrated itself to be so untrustworthy (torture, lying to war) that anarchy doesn’t look like the worst option. Those who believe that liberalism requires mass surveillance should be working much, much harder to build a trustworthy system of administering it. Especially if they want that surveillance and policing to be global, in which case a liberal democrat would demand a system that non-Americans would consider trustworthy. Global governance requires global legitimacy, and we don’t remotely have that–at this point, even the Western world cooperates with us only resentfully.

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John 01.27.14 at 9:03 pm

This just restates what many others here are saying:

If the documents being released are authentic (and this has never really been challenged), I do not care about the character or motives of those making them public.

I have been dismayed by the very personal attacks on Snowden by the national security establishment on the talk shows most Sundays. Not only is it a distraction, but each time it is done it just reinforces my thought that these are not men I want to have access to my personal data.

I also would not want to be ruled by the type of people who would dismiss anything originating with Snowden unless he is, and has always been, in 100% agreement with a laundry list of liberal orthodoxy.

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