Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights

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In the wake of Kim Dotcom’s Moment of Truth, and the stern talking-to Snowden gave New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in Glenn Greenwald’s blog, let’s put aside the disquieting implications of timing NSA leaks to increase political leverage for a wealthy crony. Instead, let’s reflect on Snowden’s latest patronizing and deeply wrong lesson in How Democracy Works. The following is from his portion of MOT, which happened today in New Zealand:

it’s collecting the communications of every man, woman, and child in the country of New Zealand, and you know, maybe, the people of New Zealand think that’s appropriate, maybe they think they want to sacrifice a certain measure of their liberty and say, it’s ok, if the government watches me. I’m concerned about terrorism; I’m concerned about foreign threats.

We can have people in every country make that decision because that’s what democracy is about. That’s what self-government is about, but that decision doesn’t belong to John Key or officials in the GCSB, making these decisions behind closed doors, without public debate, without public consent. That decision, belongs exclusively to the people of that country. [interrupted by applause] and I think it’s wrong of him, I think it’s wrong of any politician, to take away the people’s seat at the table of government…

[later in the vid]  It doesn’t matter, necessarily, if there’s mass surveillance in New Zealand if the people say they want it…

Uh, no. Sorry Ed. This is not “what democracy is about”, or if it is, fuck democracy. Even if you concede the starry-eyed notion that the citizens of any country have a “seat at the table of government”,  such that they can ratify or reject what their spy agencies do, that does not rightfully empower an acquiescent majority to vote away freedom from constant and pervasive government surveillance any more than people can, in the spirit of “self-government”,  nullify the right to criticize the President or to go to church. This is some basic shit here, so it’s truly depressing that the audience, joined by Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom, interrupted Snowden to applaud this nonsense.

This is among the things that is so bothersome about the Snowden spectacle. Alongside the now laborious variations on what is essentially the same story, there has been an endless stream of infantilizing, deeply conservative lessons in the proper way to blow whistles; on the necessity, and essential good intentions, of the Intelligence Community; and about this “debate” out of which we will ultimately decide whether we want basic human rights or not.

Lest people think I’m nitpicking, Snowden has expressed the political philosophy quoted above before. From an article about Snowden in the New York Times:

“So long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision,” he said.

From the Guardian interview that introduced him:

The public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong.

If Snowden is going to continue to teach this lesson, can we advance a grade? Let’s allow for argument’s sake that it’s entirely fine for people to waive their own rights and those of their dissenting neighbors. By what means does Snowden propose we register our consent? Do we get to vote on this? Or is our consent inferred from not toppling the government when it predictably makes things worse instead of better?

Snowden’s political philosophy illustrates a problem with whistleblowers: they’re the kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths. Ellsberg was deep inside the war bureaucracy after hanging out in Vietnam with his mentor, notorious psychopath Edward Lansdale and other thugs. Manning was an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq. John Kirakou had spent a decade in the CIA before blowing the whistle on torture. Snowden has spent his entire working life in various arms of the security apparatus. I appreciate their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.

Unless they significantly repudiate their past lives, some residue of what took them into Empire’s belly is going to stick. This would be fine, were some of them not also inclined to offer opinions on how the world should work, and their admirers exceptionally inclined to take them seriously because of their heroic deeds. Far from repudiating the NSA entirely, Snowden insists he’s still working for it. From what we’ve seen so far, his only beef with the country’s gigantic security apparatus is bulk data collection conducted by that single agency. And even that’s ok if “the people”, through some unspecified means, “consent.” That makes the debate we’re having extremely circumscribed, as well as exhaustingly insipid.

Snowden’s friend Greenwald appears to ratify Snowden’s doctrine in full, and adds  a weird, reactionary principle of his own, to the effect that one can’t object to anything Snowden (or Greenwald) says or does until one has blown a whistle oneself. This credentialing of opinion-having is preposterous under any conditions, equivalent to insisting Greenwald hold high office before criticizing the president. But for over a year now, Greenwald has belittled, smeared and straw manned anyone who objects to any part of their doctrine or methods from the left. In light of how conservative this doctrine is, and the weightiness Snowden’s stature gives it, attempts to stifle discussion are uniquely pernicious.  As the leaks now morph into strategically timed campaign fodder in another country’s election, debate on the underlying politics seems more warranted than ever.

Here’s the video. The remarks quoted above are around 1:09:24.


Leak Keeper Doctrine further enunciated. I wonder how far right is too far:


Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower

Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision

In Conclusion

Posted in Uncategorized | 53 Comments

The Celebrity Left Wars

I think most lefty types who can still stomach Twitter would agree there is a trend toward increasingly bitter feuds over what some of us on one side call the Celebrity Left, though to call them feuds is somewhat imprecise. A feud suggests two sides engaging in ongoing conflict, whereas on Twitter, genuine engagement between the two emerging camps is very rare, though there is no shortage of heat.

Here’s how things generally go:  some widely admired public left says the kind of stupid, not-very-left thing that is the bread and butter of public lefts — like that corporations are bad by choice and needn’t be, or that the left should support intervention in Syria, or that “The moral basis for Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people is eroding fast.”  A smattering of more traditional radicals attempts to take them to task for it. The public left attempts to self-immunize from criticism by various, sometimes stunningly disingenuous, means.

Depending on who’s under attack, their rank and file advocates will set about wailing, keening and sneering almost entirely amongst themselves about purity cults, circular firing squads, leftier-than-thous, brocialists, manarchists, basement dwellers, shut-ins, thought police, shamers, obsessives, trust fund authoritarians, reverse McCarthyists, Stalinists, armchair radicals, conspiracists etc. In some cases, a very pleased-with-itself crew of man-children will repeatedly tweet the famous pig poop balls picture at whomever made the criticism or posed the unwelcome question. What almost never occurs is serious engagement with whatever the question or criticism happens to be.

An example of what I’m describing: This is Saint Louis anthropologist and Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior — who would later embark on a smear campaign against Marxist feminists and sometime after that approvingly cite a white supremicist blog on “outside agitators” during the Ferguson protests  — explaining how corporations work:

No corporation is inherently evil. They are purposefully evil. They can treat workers fairly but they *choose* to underpay and abuse.

A number of people engaged with Kendzior to insist on the more traditional anti-capitalist view that corporate exploitation is baked in. Here’s one of her more popular advocates responding to that:

All the leftier-than-thou kids (almost always kids) should occupy an island together while the rest of us attempt to be decent to each other.

I’m offering this mainly because the two tweet threads perfectly embody how this shit is playing out. I’m not going to dwell on the substance here except to highlight the accidental satire of, in fewer than 140 characters, wishing island exile on one’s political opponents while extolling one’ s superior decency. But then when people don’t see the irony in harassing “thought police”,  and “reverse McCarthyists” with pig poop balls and verbal abuse, anything is possible.

What’s going on with team two here, let’s call them ‘The Adults” in accordance with their PragProg-like self-conception, increasingly seems like the kind of social psychosis that sets in when groups insulate themselves from outside influence. It is, at the very least, dishonest, hypocritical and mind-numbingly stupid. But I am going to assume that among The Adults there are intelligent people of good faith who simply differ with The Kids on theoretical grounds, though they might not have thought it through or discussed it enough to understand what those theoretical differences are. So let’s discuss.

Let’s start first with what The Kids mean by Celebrity Left. I can’t speak for everyone, but I define it in this context somewhat expansively as having a Twitter following in the tens of thousands and up — or capable of having such a following if one were on Twitter — and getting paid from time to time by mainstream media or larger liberal outlets to write and gab.  While I didn’t coin the term — I think the author of  this highly entertaining Twitter account did — anyone who reads this blog knows that I am in the diverse group of people who ratify critique in this area as interesting, entertaining and, to the extent that media criticism matters at all, necessary.

I first became aware of how vehemently people disagree on the value of these inquiries when I started raising concerns about the Snowden spectacle. I documented here what happens when you are insufficiently deferential to Glenn Greenwald or persuaded to his self-mythology.  A year on, a lot of the ardor has gone out of the Greenwald tribe, but the conflict continues, and more importantly, reproduces itself again and again in contests over other Celebrity Lefts, particularly the ones orbiting around Vice and First Look Media. Similar arguments occur around personalities associated with outfits like MSNBC and Salon, but with far less heat and controversy.

In the simplest terms, critics of the Celebrity Left do not view left icons and other professional lefts as operating under different or fewer constraints than the media as a whole. Meticulously demonstrating the basis for this is beyond the scope of this post, though I have touched on it in my posts on Chomsky, a post on The Snowden Effect and in less explicit terms all over this blog. The short version is that the ruling class knows its interests, and is not going to leave left media to its own devices any more than it allows CNN or the New York Times to do whatever they want.

If you look at funding sources and the demographic makeup of participants, the presumed border between mainstream and alternative media is largely imagined. That means that the system of reward and punishment for coloring inside and outside lines is in play everywhere, though the lines themselves may differ. This thesis gets more credible as left politics gain purchase in commercial ventures like Comcast, Vice, and Huffington Post and elicit the patronage of tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

There is no consensus among The Kids on the conclusions one draws from all this. For me, the most important conclusion with respect to these feuds is that I don’t think gatecrashing by authentic lefts is in any way possible in this system, and that fame, money and influence are commensurate with service to power. I see the overarching function of public lefts as containment. This is why I do not see them as my allies and consequently do not see critique as in-fighting.

I place Greenwald’s Pulitzers, Polks, book/movie deals, television appearances and hagiographies against this country’s history of ostracized, tortured and murdered dissidents and conclude that, at best, he is absolutely harmless to power and, at worst, hugely helpful. This is the prism through which I evaluate things like his parroting of smears against Manning when the Snowden spectacle first commenced, the retrograde doctrine that informs so much of his and Snowden’s rhetoric, and his business partnership with neoliberal ideologue and billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

People who disagree with me on this assessment likely concede that the ruling class knows its interests, but stress that it’s not omniscient. They may also concede that it exerts influence over our discourse, while counseling that it’s not omnipotent. They would stress the importance of individuals in all of this, insisting that an Omidyar is not a Murdoch or a Koch. Many of them probably agree with the old saw, sometimes attributed to Lenin, that capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them, and if it becomes profitable to give Marxists and anarchists their own MSNBC shows, or columns in the New York Times, it’ll happen. The most skeptical of them will say that, yeah, everything is fucked up, but you work with what you have. Better a Greenwald working under Omidyar than a Bill Keller, no?

I don’t agree with all of that, but I also don’t find any of it objectionable. Most importantly, I don’t see anything there that persuades, on tactical grounds, to immunizing public lefts from scrutiny or criticism. Whether or not we agree on the relationship of public lefts to power, can we at least agree that it’s a good thing to call them to account when they do something wrong? I mean, if we all agree that to at least some extent, non-left, powerful forces are exerting influence, shouldn’t we push back when public lefts seem to be articulating elite interests and not ours?

Posing the question in concrete terms: If, say, a charismatic figure rising on the left calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, what are anti-imperialists supposed to do exactly? What is the tactical rationale for interrogating or second-guessing their motives when they call her to account? Why the accusations of misplaced priorities on the grounds that she is of relatively minor influence, when, in fact, she is selling goods to people that would be less inclined to buy from a less compelling sales person?

In the absence of any obvious answer to the above questions, I am going to posit a theory: that the right to call yourself a leftist and say stupid, reactionary, retrograde, imperialist things is directly proportional to the sum of people who fear you, want to be you, want to work for you, or want to hang out with you and that that number, not coincidentally, corresponds in large measure to the interest people with money and influence have taken in you.  So all the strategies that people use to shut people up on your behalf are just bullshit, even if some of the people taking you to task aren’t particularly nice about it. More importantly, these silencing strategies serve the interests of those people with money and influence that are causing your star to rise. If you don’t want to be held accountable for your words and deeds, go do something else for a living.



Wittiest circle jerk ever!!! Oh look there’s Sarah Jeong, who thinks outing rape survivors is funny.  These people are so cool it’s scary. PS: OUCH! (Via SqarerootofeviL)



Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part One

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part Two, Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect

Oligarchs Approve The NSA Debate. I Guess We’re #Winning

The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes

The Friends of Glenn

Greenwald Still Covering for Pierre Omidyar

No, Pierre Omidyar Doesn’t Want to Topple the Government

Posted in Uncategorized | 132 Comments

Greenwald’s Free Speech Absolutism and Twitter’s Foley Ban

Sometimes I’m glad that Glenn Greenwald won’t heed my calls to just shut up and count the money, because, as the living embodiment of everything philistine and dishonest about the celebrity left, he is endlessly educational. Today’s lesson: the bogusness and stupidity of mainstream free speech mythology.

Greenwald recently took to his blog to lament Twitter’s ban on posting the video of ISIS’s alleged beheading of journalist James Foley. As with so much the fearlessly adversarial™ GG does, there is a lot of  wailing and keening, but very little in the way of precise advocacy.

Advocacy-free handwringing is Greenwald’s bread and butter, but even if it weren’t he’d still be ill-suited to condemning Twitter in concrete terms. He is a proponent of what is charitably called free speech absolutism, which is the doctrine that neither Congress, nor any other policy-making body, shall abridge the right of (mostly rich) white guys to say, print, build and sell whatever they like. This has led him to five years defending a murder-inciting white supremacist during his lawyer days; support for the Citizens United Supreme Court decision enshrining the constitutional rights of corporations; support for a Supreme Court reversal of a ban on animal torture porn; and opposition to a community’s attempt to ban Chick-fil-a from its neighborhood on the grounds that the owner funds anti-LGBTQ political groups.

From the standpoint of free speech absolutism, Twitter’s ban on the Foley video occupies a a rare gray zone for a privileged, binary thinker like Greenwald, between the speech rights of Twitter users, and the speech rights of Twitter the corporation. For the advocate of corporate speech rights, all Twitter speech is indisputably Twitter’s speech, so Twitter is at liberty, both legally and on principle, to ban anything it pleases, in the same way The Intercept is free to allot commenting rights only to ardent fans and cherry-picked trolls. Greenwald concedes as much, suggesting that overt control of user contributions on social networks is a purely ‘prudential matter’, though a vexing one.

Putting aside the somewhat laughable extent to which he presents the aggressive shaping of our discourse by “executives driven by profit motive, drawn from narrow socioeconomic and national backgrounds” as something hideously new, and seemingly remote from his own current place in the food chain, Greenwald is perfectly correct in general terms to wring his hands over Twitter’s ban. But naturally he gets it all backwards. This passage neatly encapsulates his misplaced, but typical, emphasis:

Twitter refused to follow their edict through to its logical conclusion when they announced they would not ban the account of the New York Post even though that tabloid featured a graphic photo of the Foley beheading on its front page, which it promoted from Twitter. The only rationale for refusing to do so is that banning the account of a newspaper because Twitter executives dislike its front page powerfully underscores how dangerous their newly announced policy is.

Surely Twitter’s ostensible great gift to society is the power it gives nobodies to participate more directly in public discourse. Therefore, to any real advocate of free, democratic speech, the banning of small, powerless people from Twitter places all the danger front and center, with no underscoring required. But trust Greenwald to hit this ludicrous, bathetic note on behalf of Murdoch’s reactionary tabloid. He has, after all, spent the past fourteen months touting the benefits of mediation to whistleblowing and the primacy of billionaires to the truth-telling enterprise. While implicitly warning us against the slippery slope from banning nobodies to — horrors – banning the New York Post, it never occurs to him that Twitter’s two-tiered Foley policy only underscores how power and free speech have always worked.

Of course, misreading power is a vital function of the free speech purist, and a crucial part of that is misreading first amendment history. So in the hackneyed civics lesson elsewhere in the piece, Greenwald trots out the usual hate-mongers who, as we’ve been told again and again, are the unwitting vanguard of free speech:

…free speech defenders such as the ACLU so often represent and defend racists and others with heinous views in free speech cases: because that’s where free speech erosions become legitimized in the first instance when endorsed or acquiesced to.

The defense of hate speech is a cause much-beloved to liberals, appealing as it does to their vanity — look at how even-handed and consistent I am! — their love of simplistic false equations, and above all, their starry-eyed conviction that sound arguments and law are the building blocks of a just society.  For the free speech purist, the state is the embodiment of fair play. If it permits Nazis to march in Skokie then surely it must, and will, permit communists to do likewise. If it permits homophobes to harass grief-stricken funeral attendees, it must likewise permit Occupy activists to picket the homes of billionaires.

Even a casual acquaintance with the facts shows this is utter nonsense. In fact, free speech is always provisional and generally commensurate with the utility/harmlessness of the speech to power. There is quite a lot a sexist, heteronormative, white supremacist, imperialist ruling class finds useful in hate speech, which is, after all, the language of dominance. It is reactionary, not dissident. Radical speech is far more provocative. Therefore, historically, it is radicals and not hate groups that have overwhelmingly been the main targets of political speech repression. Hate speech, far from being the canary in the coal mine, is more like the foreman, keeping the workers in line, in part by keeping them at each others’ throats. If hate speech has a relationship to First Amendment common law, it is that concessions the state makes to it sometimes ripple backwards to prior decisions against radicals, long after they can produce any material benefit.

Example: Between 1949 and 1958, the government persecuted members of the Communist Party under the Smith Act, which made it illegal to advocate the overthrow of the government. By way of this, and multiple anti-Communist witch hunts happening in parallel, the Communist Party was effectively destroyed, and a thick residue of anti-radicalism persists to this day. There is absolutely nothing in the history of U. S. white supremacism that remotely compares with this, which is only one of many crackdowns on dissident speech by which left-wing radicalism was disciplined and largely eradicated.

The Brandenburg vs Ohio case in 1969, concerning incendiary speeches made by members of the Ku Klux Klan, makes the contrast exceptionally clear. In striking down an Ohio criminal syndicalism statute under which members of the Klan had been convicted, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is likely to incite imminent lawless action. That decision led to the reversal of prior decisions against radicals, the most recent of which was Dennis vs. The United States, a CPUSA Smith Act Case which was by that time eighteen years old. In summary, on a rare occasion when white supremacists ran afoul of the law on speech grounds in a way that radicals had for decades, they were let off the hook by the Supreme Court. Greenwald’s and the ACLU’s potted history has it all entirely backwards.

The perennial touting of hate mongers as the free speech vanguard can be seen as just one more privilege they enjoy, and the erasure of radicals from the story as yet more repression. Of course, no one of any consequence is going to discuss the actual history, least of all Greenwald, whose career is built on selling bitter-coated sugar pills to self-consciously disaffected rubes, and whose immunity from state interference requires a more pleasing explanation than that he’s perfectly harmless, even helpful, to power. His interrogative title, “Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of What We See and Read?”, sets the tone for the piece, which asks fashionable questions without providing unfashionable answers.  One comes away with very little other than the sense that Greenwald thinks free speech is very, very important. For the handwringing cult he represents, that’s more than enough.


A Radical Look at Free Speech

Authoritarian Asshole Erik Loomis’s Free Speech Problem

Free Kathryn Bigelow!

Noam Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Noam Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of State Repression

Posted in Uncategorized | 44 Comments

Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision.

CIA whistleblower, Philip Agee:

Reforms of the FBI and the CIA, even removal of the President from office, cannot remove the problem. American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force – without a secret police force. The argument is with capitalism and it is capitalism that must be opposed, with its CIA, FBI and other security agencies understood as logical, necessary manifestations of a ruling class’s determination to retain power and privilege. (source)

Edward Snowden:




Confronting Snowden’s Remarks on Manning

Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

In Conclusion

Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower

Take Your Drip and Stick It

A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal




Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments

Do Glenn Greenwald And His Fans Really Care More Than You?

In his zeal to embody everything execrable in contemporary leftish discourse, Glenn Greenwald has newly metamorphosed into The Rich White Guy Playing A Self-Serving Race Card.

Greenwald and his roving crew of asskissers and disciplinarians are very concerned about the way the surveillance apparatus disproportionately focuses on U. S. Muslims. But what really concerns them, more than anything it seems, is whether your concern is equal to theirs, as scientifically measured by your regard for Greenwald and Maz Hussain’s recent article in The Intercept.

The thinking appears to be as follows:

1. Being unsurprised by the article is the same as being unconcerned with its topic.

2. If you are unsurprised — that is, unconcerned — it can only mean one thing:

a story has to be about white people in order to be really exciting and important [to you].

It’s absolutely unthinkable that your reluctance to applaud truly owes to the article imparting almost nothing that any well-read person doesn’t already know, apart from the names and backgrounds of five high-status targets of surveillance. Or that by placing its five subjects largely outside the context of what we already know about surveillance of Muslims, and by omitting any mention of other surveilled categories at all, the effect is actually minimizing. Or that its delayed publication follows even more-extreme-than-usual hype from Greenwald about fireworks and such, and thereby invites disappointment.

Since your objections are rooted in racism, Greenwald and his crew feel no obligation at all to meet them head on. There is no onus to demonstrate exactly why you should join them in extolling one more needlessly prolix article about shit we mostly know, which, in keeping with Leak Keeper custom, emphasizes victims of high social status, and which is unique for the genre mainly in how much space it devotes to government officials touting the rigor of their warrant process. Instead, they’ll just find a hundred and one reasons to call you racist, callous and selfish. As we know, there is no such thing as a reasonable, substantive objection to anything Greenwald does. So Greenwald and his acolytes need never be reasonable and substantive in reply.

But wait! We know that Snowden provided all the documents a year ago. If Greenwald really really cares about abuses against Muslims, why has it taken this long to write about it in such detail and to release the documents on which the article is based?  Why aren’t the terribly concerned  advocates of Muslim people calling Greenwald to account for this, instead of cherry-picking Muslim avatars of their awe-inpiring concern, pursuant to smearing their insufficiently impressed comrades? Surely, the Greenwald RT, coveted though it is, can’t compete with keeping journalists genuinely responsible and public-spirited.

I mean, without further information, what can the Impressively Concerned Friends of Muslims and Glenn Greenwald conclude from this, but that Greenwald and his colleagues have been irresponsible in waiting on this:

For years, the government has succeeded in having such challenges dismissed on the ground that the various plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they could not prove that they were personally targeted.

Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, those seeking to obtain such a ruling now have specific cases of surveillance against American citizens to examine.

What are we to make of this suprisingly candid passage:

Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, served on the recent White House intelligence review panel convened to address concerns raised by the Snowden revelations. If he had seen the NSA spreadsheet, Clarke says, he would have asked more questions about the process, and reviewed individual FISA warrants.

“Knowing that, I would specifically ask the Justice Department: How many American citizens are there active FISAs on now?” he says. “And without naming names, tell me what categories they fall into—how many are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, espionage cases? We’d want to go through [some applications], and frankly, we didn’t. It’s not something that five part-time guys can do—rummage through thousands of FISA warrants.”

Am I missing something, or is it exceedingly clear that, at the very least, the spreadsheet should have been released as soon as it was obtained? Shouldn’t this provoke long overdue scrutiny of Greenwald’s proclaimed inversion of the journalistic pyramid, in which the most important details are disclosed last?

Perhaps all the people on the spreadsheet were made aware of its contents a year ago. Perhaps there is an equally satisfactory answer for not furnishing Richard Clarke with the spreadsheet before the review panel convened. If so, Greenwald and Hussain should have addressed these important details in the article. With these questions still open, the lack of curiosity among people like this, this and this — so keen to discipline Greenwald’s detractors — seems very much at odds with their superior politics.


I think it’s largely self-evident to any well-informed person that the Intercept article imparted nothing new. Greenwald and co even seem to concede this, by insisting not on the article’s novelty, but rather that the lack of same should be no impediment to applause or handwringing. Still, for those painstaking point missers among us, the case against surprise is as follows:

1. While the article is supported by an NSA document, the story is mostly about the FBI, the agency tracking the five men. Surveillance of Muslims by the FBI has been widely covered, such as in this Nation article from October of last year. The Greenwald/Hussain article even links to, and quotes, this 2011 Wired article on the topic. That the NSA and the FBI share data is widely known. The FBI also collects signals intelligence of its own via its Data Intercept Technology Unit.

2. In 2011, AP began publishing a lengthy series on collusion between the CIA and the NYPD in surveilling Muslim groups, a project that began in 2001 and ended only last year, and involved warrantless spying on, and infiltration of, mosques, political groups, student groups, and unaffiliated Muslim social life over the entire Northeast. While there is little or no mention of the NSA in this series, the surveillance is actually more dramatic and disturbing than that covered by The Intercept, by virtue of its scale, its independence from any judicial oversight, and the de facto federalizing of a municipal police force.

3. Since we know that American Muslims have been targets of assassination, we can infer that they are first targets of NSA surveillance, since we know that the NSA provides the signals intelligence to the CIA that makes these murders possible. Unsurprisingly, drone targets Anwar al-Aulaqi and Samir Kahn, both U.S. citizens, are on the spreadsheet that is the basis for The Intercept article.


Greenwald’s Fireworks Finale Postponed

What a Fucking Asshole

In Conclusion

Take Your Drip and Stick It

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

Posted in Uncategorized | 146 Comments

Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism

In the last thread, commenter pnuwb introduced Chomsky’s essay, published yesterday, in which he wrote about wars of aggression. As pnuwb pointed out, the piece is “a decent anti-war article”  that ends with the conclusion that “carbon emissions are a greater crime than war or aggression.”

Pnuwb claims that this conclusion “allows [Chomsky] to imply that the existence of the fascist state’s army is tragically necessary to stop the capitalists from polluting.” I felt at the time that this was something of a leap, until commenter Pwnership Society Treasurer cited an article in which a quote by Chomsky adds weight to pnuwb’s inference:

Suppose it was discovered tomorrow that the greenhouse effects has been way understimated, and that the catastrophic effects are actually going to set in 10 years from now, and not 100 years from now or something.

Well, given the state of the popular movements we have today, we’d probably have a fascist takeover-with everybody agreeing to it, because that would be the only method for survival that anyone could think of. I’d even agree to it, because there’s just no other alternatives right now.”

There is no limit, apparently, to how many ways Chomsky, an alleged anarchist, can tout a provisional alliance with state authority. Again and again, he wrings his hands over the collusion between the state and the corporate sector, on his way to recommending the corporate-controlled state as our best hope of reigning the corporate sector in. This finds its most extreme expression in a willingness to make common cause with fascism.

I am curious what people make of this, first in regard to the logic that leads Chomsky to conclusions of this kind. I am also interested in what people who reject this logic would offer as rebuttal, and people who don’t reject it would offer in support.

I am also curious what Chomsky means by ‘given the state of popular movements today.’ I had initially thought he meant that there is no popular leverage against fascism at the moment, but now I think he means there is no movement activity that would be as effective as fascism against looming environmental catastrophe.

Finally, what about the implication that carbon emissions are a greater crime than wars of aggression? Considering the relationship of oil to U.S. foreign policy, is it sensible to even make a distinction?

Anything peripherally on topic or more is welcome.


Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of State Repression

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part 1

Passing Noam on My Way Out Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Intermission

Posted in Uncategorized | 115 Comments

Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of Domestic Repression

While doing some research, I came across this extraordinary video from May 2012, in which Chomsky vindicates beyond all doubt, my contention that among his many services to power is the rosy view he offers of state repression in the U.S.

In the video, Chomsky answers the perennial question,  “What Can We Do?” not with concrete suggestions for political engagement, but with a starry-eyed assessment of how hard it’s become for the state to persecute dissenters. “I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression”, he announces at one point in this sunny tribute to American political freedom.

At the time of this interview, Anwar al-Aulaqi, his son and Samir Khan had been dead close to a year; Chelsea Manning was in year two of pre-trial imprisonment; the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was in its 11th year of holding Islamic anti-imperialists without charges; CIA torture whistleblower, John Kirakou had recently been arrested for disclosing classified information to journalists; and six months had passed since a wave of violent police assaults closed down Occupy encampments all over the country. As ever, close to one million African Americans were living in cages.

Chomsky ignores all of this, cheerfully announcing that the “opportunities” for political engagement are “almost boundless” and admonishing gloomy comrades for their “paranoia about concentration camps.”

“The state may try to repress you,” he says,  “but they can’t do a lot.”

Diehard Chomskyites, the dimwitted antecedents of Glennbot derangement, will of course write off this pernicious nonsense as anomalous. However, this cheery little speech is very consistent with a pattern of whitewashing that I have previously discussed here and here. The diehards will probably write those discussions off too, but a rich, basement-dwelling, Leftier-Than-Thou Purity Cultist can dream, can’t he?

Commenter rsmatesic has helpfully provided a transcript:

Q: In your essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals”, you posed the question, What can we do?

NC: Well the fact of the matter is we can do just about anything. I mean, with all, you know, people like us, let’s say–we wouldn’t be here otherwise–are pretty privileged. And we have the kind of privilege that few people have ever had in history or have now. And if you have privilege you have opportunities. And the opportunities are almost boundless.

I mean thanks to the struggles of the past–it hasn’t always been like this–but thanks to the struggles in the past there’s a tremendous amount of freedom.

I mean the state may try to repress you, but they can’t do a lot. Now, they can pass the NDAA, let’s say, but they can’t really implement it against the will of the population.

I mean, look, there’s a lot of, I think there’s a lot of excessive concern in activist groups about state repression. Oh, it’s not that it’s not there–you know, sure they’d like to do it–but first of all it’s always been there and it’s just kind of inherent in states and [other/similar] power systems. And it’s much weaker than it used to be.

So take, say, there’s paranoia about concentration camps. You know, they’re gonna lock us up, NDAA says they can detain us indefinitely. Concentration camps have been there since the 50s. Back in the 1950s the liberal Democrats, Humphrey and Lehman, introduced legislation to set up internment camps in case people got out of control. I don’t know, I never followed to see what happened but I know the legislation was passed. But they can’t do anything about it.

I mean take, say, the surveillance systems. Okay, they shouldn’t have systems, we shouldn’t tolerate systems where everything you say gets sent to a central computer, massive supercomputer in Utah, and they do this and that. But, even if they have that data, what are they going to do with it? I mean, you know, nothing, effective, if the experiences with the FBI from resistance days [sic]. They can’t do anything with it. And if they try they’ll arouse popular reaction. So power really is in the hands of the governed if they’re willing to use it.

And so what can we do given that we’re people with privilege? We have an enormous number of things we can do. I mean, there may be efforts to shut you up or something. But you’re not gonna be sent to a, you know, have your brains blown out. It’s not like El Salvador.


Rancid Discussion Thread: Chomsky’s Provisional Fascism

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part 1

Passing Noam on My Way Out Part 2: Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Intermission

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