Paranoid Fiction?

Imagine if you will that a group of, say, eight or ten of the wealthiest and most powerful corporate CEOs meets together once a year in Switzerland — or, if their inclination leans toward sunnier climes, perhaps Belize. They have drinks and a bevy of loose women at hand, though they break every now and then for gourmet meals while they discuss the coming year together: how can they maintain their positions of power and keep the money rolling in?

They might decide to gain control of the media, especially television. Then they would make sure that the airwaves are filled with news reports biased in their favor together with sporting events 24 hours a day with plenty of patriotic zeal blended into the mix — fly overs, bands blaring, and plenty of flags waving while men and women in camouflage are conspicuous and constantly touted as “heroes” fighting a war on terror that these powerful men have encouraged (because it’s good for business). This will keep the viewers occupied for much of their free time and convince them that they live in the greatest country on earth. As such, they will be much more willing to believe what they are told — more malleable, if you will.

But to augment this effort, this group decides to make sure that the vast majority of the citizenry is either unemployed  (and thus dependent on the State) or holds mindless jobs for meager wages that lead them toward drugs, drinks, and the entertainment that is always ready at hand. Indeed, they promote inventions that guarantee that these folks can take the entertainment with them wherever they go — even while they drive to work or to the wide variety of recreation made available to them.  Further, the schools will be teaching practical, “hands-on” courses like computer science and various technical skills that might lead the students to whatever jobs that are available and away from any course work that might get them to think – such as history, literature, and philosophy. The idea here is to guarantee that these folks are attending to things that simply don’t matter and, like those watching a shell game, are unaware under which shell the pea is hidden: keep them occupied on mindless drivel. And to put the icing on the cake, they encourage violent television shows that keep people engrossed and on the edge, a bit fearful and better able to control. To add to the mix, through the NRA, which they control, they decide to promote the purchase of hand guns and automatic weapons to guarantee that frequent acts of violence occur that are discussed in the media they own while the Congress, bought and paid for by these corporate giants, debates what course of action not to take. This heightens the sense of danger and the fear in the population that makes it so much easier to control what the citizens do and (more to the point) what they think. And while they’re at it, these men (who make more than 400 times what their average employee makes)  encourage social media that guarantees that these people ‘s attention, such as it is, is turned on themselves so they don’t have the faintest idea where the pea might be hidden.

This, of course, is pure fiction, smacking as it does of a conspiracy theory. It is the fruits of a disturbed mind that borders on paranoia. Wouldn’t you say?

Panic Attack

I hope you have seen the 25 minute interview with Ed Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the NSA. The interview was conducted in Hong Kong where Snowden now resides until he has determined what the future will bring. He comes across as a bright, articulate, well-informed, and conscientious young man who knows whereof he speaks and also knows exactly what he did. I will not  spoil the interview for you because it is well worth your time, no matter how busy you are. I will simply attach the link here and hope you will check it out.

Toward the end of his interview Mr. Snowden expresses his main concern: that after the dust settles, things will go back to the way they were — except that the intelligence gathering community will become even more efficient and they will continue to gather information about all of us and we have no idea whatever how that information will be used by a government that increasingly borders on paranoia. Actually, I paraphrase and added the bit about paranoia myself. But if you listen to the interview you will see what Mr. Snowden actually does say. He certainly hopes that American citizens will become riled up enough about the situation that they will put pressure on their representatives so that present policies in Washington can be changed and this surveillance nonsense can be thwarted. And he is realistic enough to worry that this will not happen.

So am I. I am put in mind of some comments made by Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate who fought in Viet Nam in 1970 and 1971, served as a career Army officer, rising to the rank of Colonel. Bacevich recently testified to a Senate committee that Americans have “fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in U.S. history.” As Bacevich went on to say, “The mystical war on Communism finds its counterpart in the mystical war on terrorism. It prevents us from seeing things as they are.”

Bacevich, like Snowden, also knows whereof he speaks. And given this present aura of “mysticism” in Washington, one can conclude that the Congress in the grips of the military and the intelligence community to a degree that even a full-fledged effort by the American people will not penetrate that fog and result in alterations of national policy. This is the case because it is not only the American citizens who have “fallen prey to militarism,” it is our leaders as well. And with this fog thickening every day, it will become even more difficult to penetrate and messages to Congressional leaders from their constituents will simply not get through. The truly unsettling thing about this situation is that it is largely built on a fiction. Ours is one of the safest countries on earth.

We are separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, as we are reminded by Jill Lepore in a recent New Yorker article (1/28/13). The country is, “by dint of geography among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy.” Further, our intelligence community, despite its excesses, is considerably better informed about the goings on of suspected terrorists than it was before the attacks on the Twin Towers.  And yet, despite these protections the nation shakes in fear of what we seem convinced is an inevitable terrorist attack that will bring this nation to its knees and wreak havoc among our citizens. We have become increasingly apathetic and are losing our collective sense of perspective. Despite the fact that the odds of any single American being killed by terrorists is approximately the same as that same American winning the lottery, we seem perfectly content to hand over our freedoms and even our consciences to the government in the name of “national security.”

Thus, it would seem, Mr. Snowden’s fears are well founded.  After the dust settles — and it will settle sooner rather than later — things will almost certainly go back to the way they were. The mystique of militarism has us all in its grips, and we seem perfectly content to leave it that way.

Who’s The Traitor?

Despite a Congress that seems unable to function we can still count on its members to issue forth with unsettling remarks from time to time. Their hands may be tied by their unwillingness to cooperate, but you can’t tie their tongues. Unfortunately. The latest profound utterance comes from House Speaker Boehner:

House Speaker John Boehner today called NSA leaker Edward Snowden a “traitor” who put Americans at risk by releasing classified information to the media.

“He’s a traitor,” the highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said in an extensive interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk. It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are. And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Boehner endorsed President Obama’s characterization of two programs, which allow the NSA to gather information about phone calls made in the U.S. as well as information on foreign suspects collected from major internet companies, as critical to the government’s ability to fight terrorism. He said that there are “clear safeguards” built into the programs to protect Americans.

You may recall that Snowden is the man who decided that it was in his country’s best interest to know what sorts of shenanigans their government is up to. And from what we read more revelations may be forthcoming. The man is consequently regarded as a traitor by this hard-line Republican who apparently knows what constitutes loyalty to one’s country — even though he is part of the contingent that has brought government to a virtual halt and seems to be bound to party, rather than the common good.

There are several problems with this story, of course. We might begin with the fact that this Republican leader is siding with a “liberal” Democratic president — strange bedfellows, indeed. Only a tad stranger is the fact that Democrat Dianne Feinstein has joined Boehner in calling Edwards a “traitor.” Talk is cheap.  If only they would cooperate on such vital issues as the economy and climate change. But more important is the fact that this sort of comment by Feinstein and Boehner clouds the issue of what constitutes true patriotism, loyalty to one’s country. When one is privy to information that one is convinced his fellow citizens are better off knowing — such as information about what their armies and navies are doing in the name of “Iraqi freedom”  — as in the case of Bradley Manning — or, as in this case, what their government is doing in the name of “national security,” then they feel a responsibility to tell what they know. And this despite the fact that they know they will be pilloried by people like John Boehner. Or they might even be court-martialed as is the case with Manning.

It is a tough call to determine what sort of information should and should not be made available to ordinary citizens who are probably better off being shielded from most of the ugly things the government is forced to do. And it may turn out, as Matt Miller suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post, that Snowden has a private agenda and is simply “indulging his precious conscience.” But as a general rule I tend to side with those who show the courage of their convictions and are willing to suffer serious consequences because their “precious” consciences demand that they do what they regard as the right thing. Given the stench that so often seems to come our way from the halls of government, one suspects that this country can withstand the fresh air that has been sent its way by the revelations about phone-tapping in the name of national security. Is it indeed the case that our nation is not secure? Really? After all, who is it exactly we fear? One senses that our leaders, not to mention self-styled “centrist” journalists like Matt Miller, are becoming a bit paranoid.

Nixonesque?

The HuffPost story begins as follows:

The Obama administration woke up on Tuesday to another morning of scorching criticism about the Justice Department’s decision to secretly obtain months of Associated Press phone records.

The DOJ tracked the incoming and outgoing calls on more than 20 AP phone lines, as well as the home, office and cell phone lines for six individual journalists involved in writing a national security-related story about Yemen that the Obama administration did not want them to write.

While many of us who supported this president are dismayed by this story and its ramifications — given its open attack on the first amendment — there are those who will insist that the president is in no way connected with this sort of suppression. How could he be? He’s a liberal democrat, after all, and Democrats are champions of a free press. But the story goes on to point out that

[Buzzfeed editor Ben] Smith wrote that the nuclear nature of the probe could, in part, be traced back to Obama, who has made it a policy to aggressively go after leaks in a fashion not seen in any of his predecessors. Though the White House said it had nothing to do with the probe and referred reporters to the Justice Department, Smith wrote that it was not hard to see Obama’s hand in some way: Elements of this approach, Obama’s friends and foes agree, come from the top. Obama is personally obsessed with leaks, to the extent that his second chief of staff, Bill Daley, took as one of his central mandates a major and ill-fated plumbing expedition. Attorney General Eric Holder, who pressed the leak policy, is a trusted Obama insider.

This obsession with leaks and attempts to suppress the news is disquieting indeed. I must admit I found Obama’s first term as president unsettling, given his urge to make everyone happy and reach compromises that violated fundamental principles he embraced during his campaign. But I figured that when he gets a second term and doesn’t have to run again he will come out strong on the principles one identifies with liberal thinkers and politicians who aren’t simply holding a finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. But there he is with his finger up — and it appears to be his middle one and it is pointed at us!  The man doesn’t seem to know what a principle is and he is acting very much like a paranoid Richard Nixon or George W. Bush, saying one thing while he does another. Shades of Watergate and the invasion of Iraq clouded in lies in the name of “freedom.”

It was terribly disappointing, for example, to see that even though 91% of the people in this country wanted some sort of background checks on gun sales the man couldn’t wheedle the Senate into a vote to support gun control. Is he really that clueless, not to mention inept? He seems to be sleeping with corporations like Monsanto who are determined to ignore ethics completely in the name of higher profits. Moreover, he promised to close Guantanamo where prisoners at this writing are still on a hunger strike to draw attention to their inhumane plight. And while the drone attacks started under Bush, they have escalated under Obama to an alarming extent — and he refuses to “come clean” and appear before committees to explain what he is up to. His tendency toward secrecy and his inclination to resort of prevarication when confronted smacks of the very thing we all hoped we were getting way from with this president who promised to be open and honest. He does, indeed, appear to be a Republican in Democratic clothing, fearful of “the enemy” and devoted to increasing corporate profits. It’s one thing to be a closet Republican with his hand in corporate pockets (there are a number of them in Congress), but it is quite another to pretend that he is anything but. It’s the duplicity coupled with the growing lack of trust that causes the greatest concern. Just who is this man?