Posts Tagged 'NSA'

What’s In A Name

There is in our society a long tradition of calling certain things by names other than what they are, deliberately offsetting their true function and nature. It’s a form of perception control utilized by the government to keep awareness and protest muted. A good example is calling our many wars around the world names like “Peacekeeping Missions”, that being easier to sell than yet another war. “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan has yet to produce freedom but the war itself has endured many painful and costly years with no end in sight. Historically a little verbal sugar has helped make our unending global military actions easier to swallow. Not too long ago, “Freedom Fries” was one of those gems used to shame France for not wanting to join us in Iraq. During World War 1 we renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and frankfurters became “hot dogs”. These defiant lexical gestures no doubt sent shudders through our adversaries.

I have always been discomfited by the use of euphemisms to avoid truth. One galling current example is “School Resource Officer”, a.k.a. armed uniformed police officers stationed in a public school to monitor students. According to my dictionary “resource” means:… a source or supply from which benefit is produced.” So, what benefit is produced when cops in schools are referred to as “resources”? Warm fuzzies perhaps?

One morbid possibility that comes to mind is this being an effective way to desensitize kids to the idea of being monitored, watched, and surveilled in the course of their daily lives. Eventually, when these kids grow up they’ll be entirely comfortable knowing they are always being watched and will, no doubt, act accordingly. That may well be the objective. Paranoia over Big Brother always watching will sublimate into bland acceptance and approved behavior.

I’m sure the NSA and other government spy agencies would appreciate our not giving thought to having all of our phone calls and emails recorded and the spending of billions of dollars to store those tidbits out there in Bluffdale, Utah. General Hayden, the NSA chief, would rather Edward Snowden had not alerted us to the fact that we are all under constant surveillance – being watched and listened to for purposes of national security day in and day out – whatever ”security” means in that context and whatever “democracy” means to the General.

Utilizing innocuous euphemisms to mask onerous intent and purpose does not serve us well as a society, it distorts the truth, it is dangerous, it puts people to sleep. Does a little sugar actually help medicine go down?  Consider. Total “security” is the medicine, constant and total surveillance which itself fuels pervasive paranoia about ISIS and other organizations with designs to blow us to smithereens. The illusion that destroying the American social contract and the protections of the Constitution make us “safe” – the sugar.  How sweet is that?

Police officers in place of effective teachers and administrators give schools the ambiance of prison camps. Get used to it kids, this is the brave new world of constant surveillance you are inhabiting. Cameras watch and record you wherever you go. Every phone call you make, cell or otherwise, is known and recorded. Your computer keystrokes can be logged and all the places you visit online noted. The phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” is fast becoming, at best, ironic, itself another  euphemism, for constant surveillance and social control.  And you had better like it – otherwise someone watching somewhere is going to notice!

Where are we going with this not brave but certainly “new”, world?

Crossroads Series – Knitting At Starbucks

 Crossroads Series – Knitting At Starbucks

If you wanted to destroy a modern civil society where would you start? With education perhaps? Or the health and welfare of the general public? Or the civil courts where well paid insurance company lawyers beat back attempts to hold culpable parties responsible? How about ubiquitous universal surveillance of your activities, phone calls, and internet browsing? The economy would also be a good choice. Fostering and controlling divisive public narrative around money would be particularly effective. In fact, this last would be a particularly easy option if you controlled “news” outlets and teams of commentators who would be willing to distort events according to a prescribed political agenda. Conflict between those who have a lot and want more, those who have just enough to get by and are scared to death they’ll get sick or lose their jobs, and the have nots with nothing much left to lose – a real battlefield. Controlling the public narrative is especially effective and important because so many people don’t look beyond what they see and hear in the media or the circumstances of their own lives and they don’t look beyond information that confirms their beliefs or feeds their fears.

Because they are dangerous critical thinking skills are not cultivated or encouraged in the education system. One result of this lack is a widely divided public, a collection of people and groups with conflicting beliefs whose prejudices and fears can easily be played off against one another. What we end up with is not a nation so much as a large land-mass populated by people with competing values and beliefs on a collision course — no winners in this game of “chicken” except those who stand to profit from it and even they must consider the consequences.

Control the narrative and you can control what people believe. This ages old strategy to divide and conquer is facilitated by a global around the clock news cycle controlled by billionaires with an agenda and with loyal, well paid, cadres of announcers, panelists, and pundits. The narrative is defined in simplistic terms to structure what the general public believes about other people, other countries, events, people of differing political persuasions, poor people, and “foreigners”. While today’s list is longer and up to date the methods of forming beliefs have been uniform forever. Keep repeating the same lies and distortions and sooner or later you will have infected belief systems. Within the boundaries of a nation, or any organization for that matter, the more you divide the more you control. By definition this strategy leads to a population with irreconcilable values  and no longer organized around shared beliefs – one nation under nothing really except perhaps control.

Consider the current politicization of public education aimed at destroying it and replacing public schools with for-profit schools. This is a national movement being carried out by phony political “foundations”. State governors are raking in campaign contributions from billionaires drooling at the prospect of more profit and a population well prepared to not question authority.

Why destroy public education? Children must be educated to be fully functioning members of society, a process that is thousands of years old. And, how does this happen Mr. Joel Klein, Michele Rhee, Arne Duncan and his hoops buddy when children’s noses are pressed against computer screens informing only themselves in a circumscribed and contrived personal world? Well, it won’t happen because “public” means all of us including children, working and learning as a community, not as self-enclosed, hermetic, self-absorbed centers of private experience. Public is the antithesis of self-centeredness. Public means all of us working together, learning and teaching, not grasping whatever we can at whatever cost to the community oblivious to an inclusive  social contract. The foundational conception of public education is neither capitalism or socialism, it is not about Republicans or Democrats, not about profit, but about civility, about community, about Democracy.

Should we be teaching children to become accustomed to being constantly surveilled – a new form of life skill? Would it be best if growing up included understanding that the government is monitoring you and your not so private anymore life? Read any of Chris Hedges essays or better, Heidi Boghosian’s “Spying on Democracy”, it could be the text book. Protecting your vastly diminished life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness under the government microscope, sanctioned by Congress and our neoliberal President will be the new curriculum. It’s down the rabbit hole of paranoia as neighbors spy on neighbors as in the Soviet bloc countries during the Cold War years except far more efficient and comprehensive. Knitting at Starbucks could become a crime.

True story:

A guy is sitting in a Florida Starbucks having a tall coffee and knitting. He looks up and there are three burly cops looking down at him.  A perfect Inspector Clouseau moment. “Ahem …. What is that you’re doing?”, they ask. “Knitting, officer.” This is the new reality in paranoid America. Get used to it.

Your little cell phone provides your coordinates, your list of friends, your interests, who you call, and who calls you. All your information is being pored over by “analysts” and computers looking for clues in the “metadata”. But, not to worry, you won’t have to be looking over your shoulder for terrorists just for federal agents and they are, of course, on your side. If you have questions direct them to the General in charge of the NSA. He has the capacity to store in the neighborhood of 12 exabytes of data about his fellow Americans and you’re in there, Pal. It’s a “Brave New World”, folks. Knit one, purl two.

 

Spying on Democracy – reviewed

Spying on Democracy Heidi Boghosian City Lights Books – 2013 I haven’t reviewed any books for quite a while. This one, however, compels me to recommend it to anyone who is concerned about or isn’t aware of our government’s prolific domestic spying and its consequences. In the name of keeping us safe from terrorists the NSA, FBI, CIA, and the entire host of organizations, governmental and private, from the municipal to the national level are destroying the meaning and value of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In short, in their minds they must destroy our open democratic society in order to “save” us. Tragically, the question has now become, who is going to save us from them? The New York City Police Department  gets special attention from the author for their despicable treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The NYPD created situations that forced protesters into circumstances for which they would then be arrested. That’s called entrapment. Not to be forgotten either is the $4.6 million “donation” to the NYPD by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, conveniently made during the Occupy protests making sure his interests were protected. The transaction made clear the NYP’s priorities and loyalties. The combination of class warfare and militarized police suppression of lawful protest across the US is a clear indication of the direction in which we are being steered and by whom. As to the global scope of surveillance read today’s (10/25/13) headlines exposing the US for tapping the phones of the heads of state of our allies; Brazil, France, and Germany among them. Our government is monitoring the phone calls of 35 world leaders. It isn’t just us Americans who are being surveilled  it’s also people who are supposed to be our allies. As detailed by Ms Boghosian, it isn’t just the government gathering and storing information about us either. Each and every purchase you make using a credit card in a store or on the internet is noted, aggregated, and sold. The information gathered is sold to corporations wishing to peddle their wares to you and, of course, the data is shared with the government. Spying of Democracy is a scary book. It details and explains how every aspect of your life is being constantly examined regardless of any acts on your part that would indicate you have terroristic tendencies or affiliations. Your phone calls, your credit card transactions, the books you buy, your waist size, your friends — all of this data and metadata is under a microscope and stored away for future use. The heads of government spy operations lie about these activities even when called before congress and testifying under oath. Heidi Boghosian is a brave and patriotic individual in the same manner as Edward Snowden. If the efforts of these patriots go unheeded we are in for a sorry ride to the end of freedom of speech and expression. Buy the book. Inform yourself. And remember, everyone is always watching you.

Crossroads Series: Kneecapping Democracy

A common thread running through today’s perceived social threats has been otherness. Historically otherness is second only to fear as a means to political ascendency. Exploiting fear and otherness has been an instrument of social control for centuries not limited to nations, but  to almost any polity or organization from religious groups to labor unions. Otherness exploits fear and vulnerability in uncertain times. In a most literal sense it creates isolation and disintegration followed by the dissolution of a functional social contract. Shared sense of community is no longer on the map; it becomes an “everyone for themselves” dynamic that opens a community of common interests to exploitation. Whatever was the initial integrating factor(s) becomes lost and replaced by socially destructive forces which ultimately attain influence and domination. Political and social integrity are exchanged for safety or general affluence. Societies which control themselves, are replaced by systems, which are controlled by overseers. In the final analysis this story has always been about the underlying motive  of greed; the mentality of acquisition of whatever commodity, political or material, beyond the dreams of avarice. There is no “enough”.

 As it was at the time of the Revolution against England, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War 2, and Vietnam, the US is at another defining and evolutionary moment in its history. Each of those junctures set a definitive course in the evolution of the American social contact.  The Revolution inspired the Constitution and Bill of Rights, established our foundational social ideals about individual rights as citizens, as human beings. Those ideas had to be clarified by the Civil War and the Civil Rights movements and remain a challenge to this day. The Great Depression inspired national social programs and the notion that the Federal Government has a legitimate role in defining and underwriting a minimum quality of life for its citizens, another idea that is still being challenged. By itself World War 2 played an enormous role in the process of creating a middle-class through the GI Bill and other social programs. For a while it seemed that America was on its way to becoming an integrated and well educated society at all levels – it was the nascent “American Dream” coming true.

 Of course, the American Dream had limitations and blind spots that led to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war challenges mostly by middle-class kids in response to Vietnam. The Cuban Missile Crisis gave the nightmare of nuclear war its moment in the spotlight. American society, however, has demonstrated over and over again a short attention span and limited grasp of complex social issues. The latest ball game scores, a Dancing With the Stars contest, or a sociopathic TV series elicits more concentration, conversation, and attention from the public than civil-rights, homelessness, or hunger.  We continue to send young men and women abroad to fight wars in countries where we have no demonstrable legitimate national interests. Other than petroleum and supporting the arms industry in with wars the Middle East what else is there? Adding insult to injury, when these warriors return from the battlefield they are greeted by politicians like Paul Ryan who want to reduce and cut medical and other benefits for veterans. You may have also noticed, I hope, that in the absence of a national military draft anti-war protests have been virtually nil.  In place of “Hell no – we won’t go!” there has been conspicuous silence.

 We live in a country where 65% of adults cannot name one Supreme Court Justice but could very likely name the starting roster of their favorite ball club complete with “stats” for each player. This is a country where 30% of the adult population can’t name the Vice President but can tell you the latest gossip about Miley Cyrus. Then there is the 6% that is unable to find the 4th of July on a calendar but will eagerly give you an earful about why we shouldn’t have health care reform.  The foregoing tells you why billionaires are giving a great deal of money to politicians at the state level to privatize public education – a more gullible, more manipulable populace is in their best interests.

 At this crossroads I believe we must decide what it means to be an active participant in this society. We need to define what kind of country this will be for future generations. We must determine what the terms social justice and freedom mean or they will be happily defined for us by powerful financial and political interests. If we continue to allow the NSA to disregard the Constitution and monitor even our mundane conversations in the name of national security, political dissent and our still evolving democracy will be cut off at the knees – we will all have been redefined, not as citizens of a democracy but as a collection of others. If this sounds paranoid to you, you haven’t been paying attention – this is a lesson history has taught over and over again. Democracy must always, it would seem, be a work in progress. 

Midnight in the Land of Fear and Greed

In his 1896, “The Law Of Civilization And Decay,” Brooks Adams states: “Thought is one of the manifestations of human energy, and among the earlier and simpler phases of thought, two stand conspicuous – Fear and Greed. Fear, which, by stimulating the imagination, creates a belief in an invisible world, and ultimately develops a priesthood: and Greed which dissipates energy in war and trade.”  I wonder what Adams’ take would have been on today’s United States, driven by both fear and greed.

Scores of Americans are willing, out of Fear, to surrender freedom for the illusion of safety. Greed manifests in the relentless pursuit of profit by corporations, bankers and individuals through tax-evasion strategies and manipulation enabled by legislators gifted with PAC “donations.” The population dominating the economy promotes deregulation and tax relief for themselves, claiming “trickle-down” economics, which Kenneth Galbraith once characterized as allowing a horse to gorge on oats such that something will go through for the sparrows.

Corporations like Apple Computer utilize cleverly rationalized off-shore tax dodges, squirreling millions out of reach of the American tax system, thus withdrawing the energy represented by that money from the very society from which they derive their profits. The end result of this behavior is that the burden of taxes falls on an ever-diminished middle-class struggling to keep its head above water. Unless people believe in the fairness of the social contract as they live it on a daily basis it will be undermined.

The “priesthood” of the CIA, NSA, FBI, FISA, and IRS cite an “invisible world” they can’t tell us about but which they are a part of. Sounds like a religion, doesn’t it? Tapping your phones, reading, recording and storing your private e-mails and internet searches, photographing your mail, recording your book purchases, making “unintentional mistakes,” and storing all of this indefinitely without your knowledge or your permission, they are making you “safe” in the land of the free and the home of the brave. According to the Washington Post, “The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy.” We have descended into the same domestic spying we condemn elsewhere.

From the moment the first buckled shoe set foot on this continent, the United States has been a racist, classist, religiously bigoted  country dominated by business interests. Could it ever be different? This is a Darwinian world, and so long as there is a “getting ahead” or “having more” there will be people stepping on others to get their “more.” For their part, the polity would rather blame others – however characterized by disability, poverty, skin color, birthplace, intellect, or any quality that distinguishes them as “other” – instead of their own unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for social and economic equality, and they are encouraged in this behavior by the insatiable 1% and their puppet politicians.

What will our country look like if the sociopaths succeed? Will we be back to soup kitchens? People languishing in the streets and gutters? Will our world resemble the Middle Ages? Will there be rampant disease and lack of sufficient food, cleanliness, and health care? Is this the vision the oligarchs financing the assaults on social services, schools, and society in general have in mind?

Because, in Ronald Wright’s words, “… all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures there can never be enough to go around,” all civilizations throughout history have ascended and declined, evolved and devolved through a process of similar dynamics. This is not a new idea. Polybius, a 2nd-century BC Greek historian, noted the cycle of states as being growth, maturity and decay. This “rule” applied to sophisticated and primitive societies alike, especially those that invested heavily in their militaries and engaged in endless warfare, the Roman Empire being a good example.

The list of failed societies is long and extends to the furthest reaches of human history, and destructive energies of Fear and Greed drove those ancient societies to their collapse. They were, to paraphrase Shelley, the greatest nations that ever were. Beyond the boast, their greatness, subject to the resources of their commons, ultimately served them no further purpose; the wages of hubris.

Civilization is a recent development, something on the order of a mere six thousand years or so, consequently civilization remains, by any measure, an experiment. As with all experiments, there are no right or wrong answers—only results. The United States’ experiment is clearly at a crossroads in its history, the outcome of which is uncertain only to the extent of our collective ability to conquer fear and greed, to imagine, create, and maintain a just society. No small task.

 

Enough Already!

In physical science the term “saturated” means a system cannot dissolve more of what is being added the inevitable result being a falling out of or refusal to enter solution. I don’t know about you but I am nearly saturated by the daily tide of one miserable report after another chronicling the unrelenting assault on the American social contract. It has become nearly impossible to keep abreast of and assimilate the outrages. From one end of the country to the other, from border to border, conservative and neo-conservative led legislatures, national, state, county, and municipal, millionaires and billionaires all seem hell bent on turning this country into some sort of religious, socially retarded, antediluvian police state with voting restricted to churchgoing Christian white people who always have enough to eat. It’s a revolution of sorts orchestrated by wealthy sociopaths and their corrupt politician lackeys. How can this not lead to what Barbara Tuchmann called a “dementia of despair”?

It’s as though a plague of locusts has descended on the country and I wonder if perhaps we have somehow brought this on ourselves. Have we have sinned like Sodom and Gomorrah such that we must now pay suffering these sociopaths?   Companies like Monsanto are determined to shove genetically modified foods down everyone’s gullet. As fracking contaminates water tables Nestle is spreading their gospel that no one is entitled to free clean water. And a cast of characters from the Koch boys to Rupert Murdoch are salivating for privatized public education buying governors and, in return, having their operatives placed  in state government education offices.

Orson Welles once said that he had all the “equipment necessary to be a politician. Total shamelessness.” Representative Louie Gohmert a Texas Republican compares the civil rights of minorities to the rights of “ the snail darter, various lizards, the lesser prairie chicken, …. and so many other insects, …”. Darrel Issah declares that President Obama “has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern time.”. And where else but on the Rush Limbaugh show? Mitch McConnell is deliberately, by his own admission, destroying the civil legislative process out of spite. And it isn’t just shameless  politicians stuffing their PACs with corporate money — that sort of dirty business has been going on long before it was institutionalized by Tammany Hall — it’s that it has since become expected, it has become a yawn. Corruption has become the norm — business as usual.

Beyond the corruption of individual politicians the country is now waking up to the reality that everyone is being spied on by our own government. I’m old enough to remember how we demonized the Soviet Union for exactly the same behavior, how their domestic spying was held up to inspire our domestic loyalty. We couldn’t let them to win the Cold War because then we would be living in  a surveillance state, a police state. We have become what we were once told we were defending ourselves against. The NSA is collecting your phone calls, your email, your online searches — your postal mail is photographed by the US Post Office, even your bookstore purchases are collected. And that information will be stored indefinitely. In fact they hold so much information about us that, at our expense, they are building a $1.7 billion facility in Utah to hold it all. Good Morning America. Wake up. You live in a surveillance state.

You are also living in a police state. Secret courts accountable to no one oversee the spying and the subjects, people like you and me, have no recourse. Watch footage of the policing of the Occupy Movement across the country. Helmeted cops wearing body armor in armored vehicles looking like an army of Darth Vader’s storm troopers, tear gas quickly deployed just as in the Vietnam War protests but more efficiently and thoroughly. Of course the protestors are also photographed for later identification. Do you remember Jamie Dimon, the JP Morgan Chase CEO, handing out a $4.6 million “donation” (Was it a bonus  perhaps?) to the New York Police Department during the 2012 Occupy demonstrations? Or how about millionaire John Boehner’s charming and disingenuous assertion that populist movements like Occupy are creating class-warfare in America. There’s some chutzpa for you. Good Morning, America. Are you yawning?

The American belief system and its social contract have been attacked, compromised, and damaged in significant ways and not by external enemies. Enemies are required to provide the glue to hold ideological structures together and in the past the enemies were external. Now we are become the necessary enemy – the necessary glue. We have become the suspects and we are not in charge. Perhaps we never have been in charge, perhaps it has always been a delusion. Who can say? Who can do more than ask the question? As Alasdair McIntyre observed, “our social order is in a very literal  sense out of our, and indeed anyone’s, control. No one is or could be in charge.” I suspect the President isn’t completely in charge nor are the dysfunctional on-the-take politicians in Washington DC and across the United States. You can be sure, however, someone somewhere is pulling the strings.

As enemies provide the glue of ideological structures, belief systems are the glue of social contracts. The problem here is that in thecontradictions lies a mine field of meaninglessness, a slippery slope to pervasive nihilism that overcomes people who have given up trying to make sense of the world around them. In other words, the “dementia of despair”. There becomes less and less to believe in because less and less proves true or is even comprehensible and this leads inevitably to disbelief. With the loss of belief, the social contract built on that foundation becomes fatally undermined and finally abandoned in the final chapter of dystopia.

I close this essay with a 1954 quote from General Dwight Eisenhower, a quote the 44th president ought to meditate on: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman and they are stupid.”Amen, Brother. Enough, Already!


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