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Fair and Balanced

I read that Fox will be no longer using their, “Fair and Balanced” tagline. I wonder who will snap that one up? Maybe the DNC? Maybe the Republican’s charity softball team? I think Fox is replacing it with, “Laughing Our Ossoff.” Or maybe the Democrats already have that trademarked, having spent a fortune to run another Republican-lite candidate while campaign consultants laughed all the way to the bank.

The Dems reminds me more and more of the Washington Generals, who were paid to play straight up basketball (and lose) against a team that ignored the rules in favor of showmanship.

The Redskins get to keep their name, and no NFL team has signed Colin Kaepernick, who offended the league by pointing out that police were shooting dark-skinned people almost as casually as they shoot barking dogs.

Shaun King believes that Black Lives Matter is losing the struggle. I think we are all losing the struggle, but no one is shooting at me yet.

 

No Absolute Privacy

FBI Director James Comey spoke today at the Clements Center for National Security at UT Austin. PBS News Hour live-streamed it over Youtube, and I caught it 30 minutes in, then watched again from the beginning.

Comey began by stating that the FBI’s primary counter-terrorism concern is Islamic terrorism. Initially, he said, Islamic terrorists had some success attracting people to the caliphate, but those numbers have been dropping, and it seems to be failing. Social Media efforts peaked in Spring 2015.

But, recruiters like Anwar al-Awlaki have tried and are still inspiring people, “who are seeking meaning,” to use violence. How do you spot them? Will people close to them report to the authorities?

Comey says intelligence predicts that after the caliphate is crushed there will be a terrorist diaspora into Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa, and that they will be bent on continuing global jihad.

In response, the FBI has knitted together agents and analysts. They now assign tasks in a less geographic way, based more on talent. They have “Fly teams” prepared to go anywhere. They’ve established “Cyber task offices” and recruit for Integrity, Physicality, Intelligence, Technical Expertise. They want to shrink the world for the good people and embed analysts around the world.

If this sounds like a millennial TV show, well, Comey is looking to recruit from this student body, and he has to offer something that competes with private sector salaries.

The FBI intends to impose costs on foreign hackers.They urge cyber and media companies to establish relationships with the local FBI office so they can be rescued the way that Sony was rescued from the North Korea hack. He describes a relationship where the FBI would know a companies cyber-footprint the way that a fire marshal would know a building’s exit plan.

Comey assured the audience that he loved encryption, and that he even had a private Instagram account for family only. But now he feels there is a creeping darkness caused by effective encryption as the default. He worried that there are too many messages that the government simply can’t read. The deal, he says, was that there was “no such thing as absolute privacy.” In the past, he said, you had privacy, but your house, accounts, spouse and even your thoughts could always be investigated – with official authorization. He believes that manufacturers should be held responsible for the information on their devices being available for judicial review.

The moderator asked, given that there were hardly any cases right after 9/11, what are the causes and indicators of home-grown domestic radicalization? Comey responded that, “the internet has transformed the way we live.” He said there was no hotspot, but that all around the nation troubled people, who may be drug users, child pornographers, disaffected teens, people with troubled relationships were seeking meaning or a different world without ever leaving their computers. He used that, “seeking meaning,” phrase a lot. He also felt that usually somebody saw something and didn’t speak up.

My first thought was of the local terrorism cases that seemed to clearly be instigated by an FBI plant. My second thought was that like Neil Gorsuch, Comey is a very personable fellow with a scary agenda. He closed with an inspiring talk about the request to wiretap ML King requested by Hoover and approved by Robert F Kennedy. He says he doesn’t want the FBI to make that mistake again, but I didn’t feel reassured by the tenor of the sales pitch.

Year of Hell

One of the better plotlines on Star Trek: Voyager was the Year of Hell. In that two-part episode, Voyager was battered and her crew decimated over the course of a year of running battles with an implacable enemy. It struck me as a much more likely scenario than the usual melodrama of a lone ship escaping every situation either triumphant or at least mostly intact. The writers made everything revert to normal, of course, but continuing it would have been a learning experience for fans.

So in our real world plotline, we’ve had 100 days of limbo. Most of my friends and most of the media are outraged by President Trump, but a lot of the people I read or follow are equally outraged at the resistance which seems to have been encouraged, propagandized and orchestrated by the Deep State.

Why are progressives suspicious of the resistance? At Truthdig, historian Paul Street explains, The Deep State’s Hatred of Trump Is Not the Same as Yours :

… The issues that concern the swirling, record-setting crowds that have arisen from coast to coast are evident on their homemade signs. They include women’s and civil rights, climate change, social justice, racism, nativism, the police state, mass incarceration, plutocracy, authoritarianism, immigrant rights, low wages, economic inequality …, hyper-militarism and the devaluation of science and education. The marches and protests are about the threats Trump poses to peace, social justice, the rule of law, livable ecology and democracy.

Meanwhile, the national corporate media and the U.S. intelligence community have been attacking Trump for a very different and strange reason. They have claimed, with no serious or credible evidence, that Trump is, for some bizarre reason, a tool of the Russian state. …. Citing vague and unsubstantiated CIA reports, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other forces in the establishment media want Americans to believe that, in Glenn Greenwald’s properly mocking words, “Donald Trump is some kind of an agent or a spy of Russia, or that he is being blackmailed by Russia and is going to pass secret information to the Kremlin and endanger American agents on purpose.”

Beneath the wild and unsubstantiated charge that Trump is some kind of Moscow-controlled Manchurian president is a determination to cripple and perhaps remove Trump because he wants to normalize U.S. relations with Russia.

In The Deep State vs. President Trump, retired polysci prof Gary Olson hits many of the same notes:

Why does the Deep State fear and despise Trump? First, his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, is a fervent disciple of capitalist economic nationalism. Further, his America is the “shining city on a hill,” but where the dwellers are Christian white people. Deep State types are convinced Trump’s skewed priorities will undermine the dominant role played by the U.S. in the global capitalist system from which they derive their power, wealth, and ultra-lavish lifestyles. We are witnessing a no-holds-barred clash between two warring camps.

Second, both the Pentagon and their arms-dealer friends are salivating over a new Cold War with Russia and will do anything to sabotage enhancing peaceful understanding between Washington and Moscow. This explains their hysterical Kremlin-baiting of Trump. Likewise, Trump sent chills through the Deep State when he voiced doubts about NATO as an archaic relic of the past, expensive and dangerously misused outside of Europe.

Third, Trump’s erratic behavior, penchant for confrontation and unwillingness to be a team player render him an unreliable caretaker of Deep State interests. They much preferred Hillary Clinton or even Jeb Bush. Trump was the “Frankenstein Populist” (Paul Street’s term) who, shockingly, won the election. Now he threatens to unwittingly expose their “marionette theater” of contrived democracy. My sense is that if Trump does not satisfy the Deep State doubts about his trustworthiness, his days in office are numbered.

Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly?

Essentially, a lot of people who were doing fine under Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama aren’t ready for that ride to be over. They expect everyone, EVERYONE to forget that life under neoliberals sucked and was getting worse for a lot of people, and to unite to defeat Trump. It’s the same deal they worked hard to arrange in the election, and even though it was a loser, they would rather make it work through insurrection than change one damn thing about the establishment.

We watched the film Elysium last weekend, which like Snowpiercer was a fairly transparent metaphor for our unequal society overlaid with fight scenes that resembled video gaming. As in Snowpiercer, the establishment was overthrown, and society was able to quickly reboot. Is the Trump administration robust enough to survive all his missteps? If not, is the US government robust enough to survive a bitter insider revolution? Are we robust enough to survive a series of authoritarian administrations?

In, American Regicide, Akim Reinhardt warns that the institution of the Presidency is increasingly fragile:

After Nixon’s resignation, 5 of the next 7 presidents suffered an impeachment motion in the House, and one of them, Bill Clinton was actually impeached. In fact, every president beginning with Ronald Reagan has seen a member of Congress move to impeach him.

Ronald Reagan faced an impeachment motion over the Iran Contra Scandal.

George Bush the Elder faced an impeachment motion over the first Iraq war.

Prior to actually being impeached over the Monica Lewinski scandal, Bill Clinton faced an impeachment motion for allegedly obstructing an investigation of alleged campaign contributions from foreign sources.

George Bush the Younger faced an impeachment motion over his version of the Iraq (and Afghanistan) war.

Barack Obama faced two impeachment motions: one for administering the drone program in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the other for the odd combination of charges that he failed to do perform his presidential duty while also abusing his presidential powers.

All of this is not a coincidence.

What Reinhardt doesn’t get around to saying is that the roots of government weakness lie in our failure to take part in, or even pay attention to its workings. Many of us work hard, and more of us play hard, but few of us go to the long boring meetings that determine the direction of government. Taking part in marches is a fine thing, but making one’s voice heard at all sorts of town meetings is a better thing. People get the government they deserve, but more to the point, we have also gotten the deep state we deserve, and we may get many years of hell while our government and deep state fight for supremacy.

Obama’s Legacy

I’ve been seeing a barrage of posts by many of my friends lamenting that such a dignified man is leaving office to be replaced by a coarse caudillo. Barack Obama is certainly very intelligent, and I suspect that he, Michelle, and their children are very nice people, but I regard him as only a placeholder president.

As described in Listen, Liberal, which I am most of the way through reading, our outgoing president initially enjoyed a supermajority in Congress, but instead of executing the will of the American people as a whole, catered to the concerns of about ten or twenty percent of Americans: highly-educated, successful professionals.

While most people wanted Wall Street to be reformed, Obama bailed out the institutions and guaranteed millions upon millions in bonuses.

While most people wanted peace, Obama continued war-for-profit and escalated assassination via drones.

While most people wanted a single payer system, Obama settled for a mandated gift to private insurance companies.

While most people wanted a more transparent government, Obama has persecuted whistleblowers.

And today, while people are praying that he will pardon Chelsea Manning, we read this:

NSA Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

But Patrick Toomey, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the move an erosion of rules intended to protect the privacy of Americans when their messages are caught by the N.S.A.’s powerful global collection methods. He noted that domestic internet data was often routed or stored abroad, where it may get vacuumed up without court oversight.

“Rather than dramatically expanding government access to so much personal data, we need much stronger rules to protect the privacy of Americans,” Mr. Toomey said. “Seventeen different government agencies shouldn’t be rooting through Americans’ emails with family members, friends and colleagues, all without ever obtaining a warrant.”

Update20170118: President Obama has commuted the sentence of Army whistleblower Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, and has pardoned retired Marine General James E Cartwright, who had been convicted of lying to the FBI. Obama has reportedly pardoned or reduced the sentences of a few hundred non-violent drug offenders.No one is sure whether  Julian Assange will make good on his promise to face extradition to the US in exchange for Manning’s commutation.

Refusal to Learn

Greenwald just knocks it out of the park. Here are some snippets, but read the whole thing at The Intercept. [Update: Greenwald was interviewed on this topic on today’s Democracy Now]

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

THE PARALLELS BETWEEN the U.K.’s shocking approval of the Brexit referendum in June and the U.S.’ even more shocking election of Donald Trump as president last night are overwhelming. Elites (outside of populist right-wing circles) aggressively unified across ideological lines in opposition to both. Supporters of Brexit and Trump were continually maligned by the dominant media narrative (validly or otherwise) as primitive, stupid, racist, xenophobic, and irrational. In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory. Afterward, the elites whose entitlement to prevail was crushed devoted their energies to blaming everyone they could find except for themselves, while doubling down on their unbridled contempt for those who defied them, steadfastly refusing to examine what drove their insubordination.

The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

1. Democrats have already begun flailing around trying to blame anyone and everyone they can find — everyone except themselves — for last night’s crushing defeat of their party.

2. That racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are pervasive in all sectors of America is indisputable from even a casual glance at its history, both distant and recent.

3. Over the last six decades, and particularly over the last 15 years of the endless war on terror, both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.

Watching Snowden

The Charles Theatre’s Revival Series matinee yesterday was The Conversation, a Francis Ford Coppola film about surveillance and eavesdropping. In 1974, having seen Gene Hackman in Bonnie and Clyde and The French Connection, and Cindy Williams in Laverne and Shirley and American Graffiti, I drove two of my siblings and their friends to some theatre on Wisconsin Avenue to watch it. John Cazale, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford and Teri Garr played supporting roles. I already knew Duvall, but not the others. Even after Watergate, I found the idea that we could always be watched very dark and paranoid. Roger Ebert reviewed the film as one of his Great Movies, in 2001:

Coppola, who wrote and directed, considers this film his most personal project. He was working two years after the Watergate break-in, amid the ruins of the Vietnam effort, telling the story of a man who places too much reliance on high technology and has nightmares about his personal responsibility. Harry Caul is a microcosm of America at that time: not a bad man, trying to do his job, haunted by a guilty conscience, feeling tarnished by his work.

I had to work midday Saturday, but watching that film again would have been a fine lead-in to Oliver Stone’s new film, Snowden, which was showing at only a few local theatres. I had read several positive reviews – some recommended seeing Laura Poitras’ 2014 documentary CitizenFour first – and one discouraging review. One friend at work had heard (on NPR) a former NSA deputy director’s claim that it was all lies, that Snowden had actually stolen important state secrets, and that agents had died.

I stopped off to see Snowden on the way home Saturday afternoon. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a convincing Edward Snowden. I had watched him telling Steven Colbert that he met Snowden in Moscow, which helped his characterization. Rhys Ifans was convincing as a composite of a CIA bigwig that took Snowden under his wing. Nicholas Cage was restrained as a composite of a disaffected techie genius, reduced to teaching young agents. Zachary Quinto, playing Glenn Greenwald, had a chance to yell a bit (at his cautious Guardian editor); Melissa Leo had more to do playing Laura Poitras, but I wonder if she is actually that warm and motherly on the job.

In the same way that Hannah Giles attracted right-wing fanboys to the Acorn entrapment story, Snowden’s outgoing girlfriend Lindsay Mills let it all hang out on the internet, and was a bonus ‘manic pixie dream girl’ for his libertarian supporters. Shailene Woodley gave a fine performance, but she doesn’t look that much like (how I remember) Mills, and reportedly never could meet up to learn her mannerisms. One of the dumbest criticisms I read beforehand was a complaint that the film spent too much time on their romance. Mills was, and is, a big part of the Snowden story.

Snowden was very dramatic, well-filmed, well-paced, etc, but I wanted to see more of his time hiding with poor refugees in Hong Kong, and more of his escape and refuge in Moscow. Towards the end when Toronto students cheer Snowden speaking via a video feed, I felt like standing up and cheering, too, but still I felt that a more balanced, less laudatory film – one that addressed and answered criticisms – would better serve Snowden’s desire for repatriation.

The film was careful to make clear that Snowden published all documents through the established news outlets, but just today, the Washington Post editorial board repudiated calls that Snowden be pardoned and may have become the first newspaper to call for prosecution of its own source.

The complication is that Mr. Snowden … also pilfered, and leaked, information about a separate overseas NSA Internet-monitoring program, PRISM, that was both clearly legal and not clearly threatening to privacy. … he also leaked details of basically defensible international intelligence operations: cooperation with Scandinavian services against Russia; spying on the wife of an Osama bin Laden associate; and certain offensive cyber operations in China. No specific harm, actual or attempted, to any individual American was ever shown to have resulted from the NSA telephone metadata program Mr. Snowden brought to light. In contrast, his revelations about the agency’s international operations disrupted lawful intelligence-gathering, causing possibly “tremendous damage” to national security, according to a unanimous, bipartisan report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. What higher cause did that serve?

In response, the real Glenn Greenwald yelled, in The Intercept:

In arguing that no public interest was served by exposing PRISM, what did the Post editors forget to mention? That the newspaper which (simultaneous with The Guardian) made the choice to expose the PRISM program by spreading its operational details and top secret manual all over its front page is called . . . . The Washington Post. Then, once they made the choice to do so, they explicitly heralded their exposure of the PRISM program (along with other revelations) when they asked to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

Our crusading mainstream media.

Face the Music

No event has caused me to lose faith in the mainstream and new internet media as has their reaction to the revelations of Edward Snowden. Former Attorney General Eric Holder made news last week when he admitted that Snowden had done a great service to the citizens of America by revealing the extent to which we were being monitored by our government. But Holder, President Obama, candidate Clinton, and many others also assert that Snowden should have followed normal whistleblower channels, and now should return to face the sealed charges against him.

Last week on Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed Mark Hertsgaard, author of a new book about the experiences of two NSA whistleblowers before Snowden, and one of his subjects, John Crane, whose career was ended when he revealed NSA wrongdoing:

Pentagon Whistleblower’s Disclosures Put a Lie to Obama, Clinton Claims About Snowden

MARK HERTSGAARD: … everybody knows what Snowden did at this point, but to really understand it, what Snowden did and why he did it the way he did it—he did it, you need to know the stories of … Thomas Drake [and] John Crane. … when you see everything that John Crane tells us about how the whistleblower protection system inside the Pentagon is broken, only results in a whistleblower having his life ruined, as we saw with Tom Drake, you see that really Edward Snowden had no other choice but to go public. …

And so I think that’s what’s important about John Crane’s story, is it puts the lie to what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are saying and have been saying about Edward Snowden from the beginning. “He broke the law, bring him home. He should face the music,” is what Hillary Clinton said. “Face the music. He could have been a whistleblower,” Hillary Clinton added, “and he would have gotten a very good reception, I think.” Well, I would just like to invite Secretary Clinton, tell that to Thomas Drake, tell that to John Crane, that you would have gotten a good reception by following the whistleblower law inside of the Pentagon.

And today, Juan Cole has addressed Holder directly, Dear Mr. Holder: Why Ed Snowden can’t get a Fair Trial in your National Security State:

… nobody in the Obama administration still in office ever said that Snowden did a public service. He certainly did, since the NSA and other intelligence organizations had gone rogue. In essence, they unilaterally abrogated the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. PBS Frontline alleged that the NSA did not even read Obama into their warrantless surveillance of millions of Americans until 2010! In a system like that, the president isn’t really the president– the Deep State does as it pleases.

It is also clear that the NSA has been sharing metadata with local law enforcement, which has been using it to build cases against people without ever seeking a warrant, and then lying to judges about how they knew someone was, e.g., in touch with a drug dealer by phone. In other words, NSA surveillance has corrupted the entire justice system of the United States and made the Fourth Amendment a dead letter.

Such sharing of illicitly-gathered private information among US government agencies is becoming routine. (These cases have nothing to do with terrorism.)

My favorite moments in CBS’ The Good Wife, which recently ended, was their matter of fact portrayal of just how routine it was that Alicia Florrick, her governor husband and all their associates were being electronically-monitored on the basis of a tenuous connection with a former client. That the agents were a bunch of geeky millenials in a cubicled space out of Dilbert, who fit their surveillance between teasing each other with the latest memes, added to the absurdity, but might have led people to think the writers were joking.

They weren’t.

And we’re the ones who will face the music.