Blog Archives

Secrecy and Fear

I’ve just finished reading Peter Maass’ fine piece in the New York Times on Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden.  It is at once terrifying and awe inspiring.  It is also a fairly accurate diagnosis of what the fear mongering of the Bush era and since has done to whatever was left of American civil liberties.  Government suppression of information about its questionable true activities have reached some kind of a nadir in a long history of secrecy and coverups beginning with Vietnam, and perhaps long before then.  That American citizens should be forced to go to such extreme lengths to provide the public exposure of government wrongdoing is very scary indeed.  It makes me feel as though I should be investigating ways of securing myself against the kinds of intrusion that Poitras and Greenwald have been subjected to, as well as the much more severe retaliation against Snowden and Manning and who knows how many others.  The brutality of war has infected all the security branches of our government, to the point at which the government itself becomes the enemy of every citizen who wishes to live in a democratic country that values the freedoms of speech, assembly, and of the press that it brags about to the world but does not practice.

And as an aside, the embassy shut downs have been called off, except for Yemen, and not one thing has happened to any of our embassies or foreign service personnel.  How strange!

July 1 – July 15 Rambles

Hey, I’m catching up!

July 1:

I’m not sure the US understands democracy any better than those in the Middle East who crack down with their militaries on populations demanding better treatment.  George Bush left many poisonous programs behind when he left office, and unfortunately, those who were held over by Obama have persuaded him of the same paranoia about terrorism – that safety comes before anything and everything, including the Constitution.  Government lawyers have justified anything as we learned in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, in the name of “national security”, when many of us thought that with Obama the abuses would stop.  Some did, but the worst ones, as revealed by Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and the British newspaper the Guardian, just kept growing and growing until they encompassed everyone in the world with an internet connection.  Our government seems to be seeing terrorists behind every event no matter how small, even threatening journalists for doing their jobs or writing books, while creeping ever more steadily to the authoritarian corporate state where everything they do is considered a “state secret”.

As I read it, the Constitution does not charge the President with keeping the nation “safe”.  Congress is enjoined to provide only for the defense of the nation, not it’s complete safety from all harm.  Such a concept of “safety” is a logical impossibility, and those who demanded it after 9/11 have done more to harm our constitutional rights and our republican form of government than anything since our beginnings.  George W. & Co were terrified by what happened on 9/11 (as they were meant to be). Their reaction was one of panic and vengeance that has led us to where we are today, cowering behind wholesale snooping of friend and enemy alike, standing in endless lines to undergo ridiculous searches just to board an airplane, looking suspiciously at anyone with a different way of dressing, or of a different skin color.  The fear promoted throughout the country has led to a whole slew of unrelated abuses in the service of a moral rigidity that is anything but inclusive.  States are depriving children and families of support for their nutrition and education.  They are depriving women of access to adequate healthcare.  The elderly are being deprived of meals and services.  Innocent people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere are being killed by missiles from the air directed by pilotless drones.  All in the name of keeping a certain class of US society “safe” and comfortably secure in their belief that they know what’s best for all of us.  Everything our governments  have done has made us less safe, and that includes states as well as the federal government.

It should be enough to defend the territory of the US without the pseudo-macho actions involved in “taking the fight to them”.  Have we gained anything from the blood spilled and the dollars spent? Only the corporations who made the militarization possible have gained.

George W’s invasion of Iraq may have had some influence on the Arab Spring.  It certainly stirred up the religious sectarian fight now going in in both Syria and Iraq.  The Bush administration also began the wholesale secret data mining program at NSA.  Some of the original abuses were eased by finally using the intermediate step of the FISA court, but as the tools grew better and better the temptation to go wholesale on the gathering of data in the present government atmosphere of paranoia must have become too strong to resist.  Secret programs always have this tendency in the US, but inevitably the abuses leak out.  The people of the NSA would have done well to read Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, on the sorry history of the CIA.  My question is, how is this huge mass of data ever going to be useful to anyone?  By the time it can be filtered and analyzed, it must surely be too late to prevent much of anything from happening, regardless of what people have said about how “useful” the program has been in stopping attacks.  I’m not sure that we really have the tools to sort through vast data banks of bits in that kind of timely manner.  The FBI had information about the 9/11 hijackers that was never passed on to anyone who could use it, and no one connected the dots on the Tsarnaevs.  Since the proliferation of contractors and analysts, who is going to be able to read and evaluate their reports, especially considering the Republican effort to shrink government?  When contractors may have their own axes to grind such as staying in business, how trustworthy can their reports possibly be?

As far as I can tell, Edward Snowden has not released anything that directly harms the United States no matter what the politicians in Washington may be yelling.  He has embarrassed the government plenty, which also explains the over the top blacklash, but like the Wikileaks revelations which caused acute embarrassment, I don’t see the harm.  You can tell me all you want about super “secret tool” that can do all these marvels of spycraft, but I say “show me”, and have no need to believe on faith.

I can’t imagine that such a massive data mining program could not have been known or suspected by both our friends and enemies.  Osama bin Laden had already stopped using the internet to transmit his messages, but used trusted human messengers instead.  Surely this information has spread among all but the most isolated of islamist groups.  They aren’t stupid, and they use the internet for their own purposes.  Yet our officials act like little boys with their hands caught in the cookie jar, and than blame the messenger for their own foolishness.  Secrets and democratic practice do not mix.

Senator Diane Feinstein, according to the NYT, is a staunch supporter of the NSA data mining program, and thinks that Snowden is a traitor.  “I feel I have an obligation to do everything I can to keep this country safe,” she said.  Senator Feinstein, with all due respect, you’re wrong.  The “safety” you intend is not worth having at such a high price as our 4th Amendment Rights.  I’m not even sure that it’s safety at all.  It certainly didn’t protect the Boston marathoners from the Tsarnaev brothers.  Even though it is already too late to do anything about it, I don’t much like living in a country where the government and all the techno industrial complex spy on the rest of us.  Just because it goes on and “everybody does it” does not make it right.  It gives me the creeps when I see the last item I looked at on some site turn up as an ad on all the other sites I visit, and I wonder how much information has been collected about me because I write this blog which is so often critical of the government and its politicians.  We humans often seem to think that if only if we build walls high enough, buy enough policemen, surveillance cameras, fancy weapons systems, and trip alarms we will be safe inside our gated communities from the marauding hordes.  I don’t know that such a program has ever worked in history for very long.  Even the Chinese couldn’t keep out the “barbarians” forever.  The impulse to police the entire world, falls prey to the failure to see the devils within and the impossibility of knowing anyone else completely.  Besides, those “marauding hordes” are us.

 

Trayvon Martin (July 15, 2013)

 

He’s dead.  The trial is over.  George Zimmerman is free to walk the streets if he dares.  A travesty of justice has been delivered because of badly written overly broad laws allowing something called self defense, and a system of justice that often is expected to prove the impossible.

This is what we know.  George saw Martin. Thought he was up to no good.  Left his car and followed the boy.  Somehow a fight got started, but we don’t know who started it.  We don’t know what was said, either.  Somehow George ended up with some scratches and a broken nose, and Trayvon ended with a bullet in his heart.  George gets away with murder.

When is America going to come to its senses?  Too many guns; too much fear and too much hate.

I hope someone helps Trayvon’s parents sue in civil court for wrongful death.  That may be the only avenue that will cause George Zimmerman to end up in jail.