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June 15, 2013 | NYTimes.com
If there is one thing we can take away from the news of recent weeks it is this: the modern American surveillance state is not really the stuff of paranoid fantasies; it has arrived.
The revelations about the National Security Agency's PRISM data collection program have raised awareness — and understandably, concern and fears — among American and those abroad, about the reach and power of secret intelligence gatherers operating behind the facades of government and business.Surveillance and deception are not just fodder for the next "Matrix" movie, but a real sort of epistemic warfare.
But those revelations, captivating as they are, have been partial —they primarily focus on one government agency and on the surveillance end of intelligence work, purportedly done in the interest of national security. What has received less attention is the fact that most intelligence work today is not carried out by government agencies but by private intelligence firms and that much of that work involves another common aspect of intelligence work: deception. That is, it is involved not just with the concealment of reality, but with the manufacture of it.
The realm of secrecy and deception among shadowy yet powerful forces may sound like the province of investigative reporters, thriller novelists and Hollywood moviemakers — and it is — but it is also a matter for philosophers. More accurately, understanding deception and and how it can be exposed has been a principle project of philosophy for the last 2500 years. And it is a place where the work of journalists, philosophers and other truth-seekers can meet.
In one of the most referenced allegories in the Western intellectual tradition, Plato describes a group of individuals shackled inside a cave with a fire behind them. They are able to see only shadows cast upon a wall by the people walking behind them. They mistake shadows for reality. To see things as they truly are, they need to be unshackled and make their way outside the cave. Reporting on the world as it truly is outside the cave is one of the foundational duties of philosophers.
In a more contemporary sense, we should also think of the efforts to operate in total secrecy and engage in the creation of false impressions and realities as a problem area in epistemology — the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of knowledge. And philosophers interested in optimizing our knowledge should consider such surveillance and deception not just fodder for the next "Matrix" movie, but as real sort of epistemic warfare.
To get some perspective on the manipulative role that private intelligence agencies play in our society, it is worth examining information that has been revealed by some significant hacks in the past few years of previously secret data.
Important insight into the world these companies came from a 2010 hack by a group best known as LulzSec (at the time the group was called Internet Feds), which targeted the private intelligence firm HBGary Federal. That hack yielded 75,000 e-mails. It revealed, for example, that Bank of America approached the Department of Justice over concerns about information that WikiLeaks had about it. The Department of Justice in turn referred Bank of America to the lobbying firm Hunton and Willliams, which in turn connected the bank with a group of information security firms collectively known as Team Themis.
Team Themis (a group that included HBGary and the private intelligence and security firms Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and Endgame Systems) was effectively brought in to find a way to undermine the credibility of WikiLeaks and the journalist Glenn Greenwald (who recently broke the story of Edward Snowden's leak of the N.S.A.'s Prism program), because of Greenwald's support for WikiLeaks. Specifically, the plan called for actions to "sabotage or discredit the opposing organization" including a plan to submit fake documents and then call out the error. As for Greenwald, it was argued that he would cave "if pushed" because he would "choose professional preservation over cause." That evidently wasn't the case.
Team Themis also developed a proposal for the Chamber of Commerce to undermine the credibility of one of its critics, a group called Chamber Watch. The proposal called for first creating a "false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information," giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to "prove that U.S. Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth."
(A photocopy of the proposal can be found here.)
In addition, the group proposed creating a "fake insider persona" to infiltrate Chamber Watch. They would "create two fake insider personas, using one as leverage to discredit the other while confirming the legitimacy of the second."Psyops need not be conducted by nation states; they can be undertaken by anyone with the capabilities and the incentive to conduct them.
The hack also revealed evidence that Team Themis was developing a "persona management" system — a program, developed at the specific request of the United States Air Force, that allowed one user to control multiple online identities ("sock puppets") for commenting in social media spaces, thus giving the appearance of grass roots support. The contract was eventually awarded to another private intelligence firm.
This may sound like nothing so much as a "Matrix"-like fantasy, but it is distinctly real, and resembles in some ways the employment of "Psyops" (psychological operations), which as most students of recent American history know, have been part of the nation's military strategy for decades. The military's "Unconventional Warfare Training Manual" defines Psyops as "planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals." In other words, it is sometimes more effective to deceive a population into a false reality than it is to impose its will with force or conventional weapons. Of course this could also apply to one's own population if you chose to view it as an "enemy" whose "motives, reasoning, and behavior" needed to be controlled.
Psyops need not be conducted by nation states; they can be undertaken by anyone with the capabilities and the incentive to conduct them, and in the case of private intelligence contractors, there are both incentives (billions of dollars in contracts) and capabilities.
Several months after the hack of HBGary, a Chicago area activist and hacker named Jeremy Hammond successfully hacked into another private intelligence firm — Strategic Forcasting Inc., or Stratfor), and released approximately five million e-mails. This hack provided a remarkable insight into how the private security and intelligence companies view themselves vis a vis government security agencies like the C.I.A. In a 2004 e-mail to Stratfor employees, the firm's founder and chairman George Friedman was downright dismissive of the C.I.A.'s capabilities relative to their own: "Everyone in Langley [the C.I.A.] knows that we do things they have never been able to do with a small fraction of their resources. They have always asked how we did it. We can now show them and maybe they can learn."
The Stratfor e-mails provided us just one more narrow glimpse into the world of the private security firms, but the view was frightening. The leaked e-mails revealed surveillance activities to monitor protestors in Occupy Austin as well as Occupy's relation to the environmental group Deep Green Resistance. Staffers discussed how one of their own men went undercover ("U/C") and inquired about an Occupy Austin General Assembly meeting to gain insight into how the group operates.
Stratfor was also involved in monitoring activists who were seeking reparations for victims of a chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India, including a group called Bophal Medical Appeal. But the targets also included The Yes Men, a satirical group that had humiliated Dow Chemical with a fake news conference announcing reparations for the victims. Stratfor regularly copied several Dow officers on the minutia of activities by the two members of the Yes Men.
One intriguing e-mail revealed that the Coca-Cola company was asking Stratfor for intelligence on PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) with Stratfor vice president for Intelligence claiming that "The F.B.I. has a classified investigation on PETA operatives. I'll see what I can uncover." From this one could get the impression that the F.B.I. was in effect working as a private detective Stratfor and its corporate clients.
Stratfor also had a broad-ranging public relations campaign. The e-mails revealed numerous media companies on its payroll. While one motivation for the partnerships was presumably to have sources of intelligence, Stratfor worked hard to have soap boxes from which to project its interests. In one 2007 e-mail, it seemed that Stratfor was close to securing a regular show on NPR: "[the producer] agreed that she wants to not just get George or Stratfor on one time on NPR but help us figure the right way to have a relationship between 'Morning Edition' and Stratfor."
On May 28 Jeremy Hammond pled guilty to the Stratfor hack, noting that even if he could successfully defend himself against the charges he was facing, the Department of Justice promised him that he would face the same charges in eight different districts and he would be shipped to all of them in turn. He would become a defendant for life. He had no choice but to plea to a deal in which he may be sentenced to 10 years in prison. But even as he made the plea he issued a statement, saying "I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right." (In a video interview conducted by Glenn Greenwald with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong this week, Snowden expressed a similar ethical stance regarding his actions.)
Given the scope and content of what Hammond's hacks exposed, his supporters agree that what he did was right. In their view, the private intelligence industry is effectively engaged in Psyops against American public., engaging in "planned operations to convey selected information to [us] to influence [our] emotions, motives, objective reasoning and, ultimately, [our] behavior"? Or as the philosopher might put it, they are engaged in epistemic warfare.
The Greek word deployed by Plato in "The Cave" — aletheia — is typically translated as truth, but is more aptly translated as "disclosure" or "uncovering" — literally, "the state of not being hidden." Martin Heidegger, in an essay on the allegory of the cave, suggested that the process of uncovering was actually a precondition for having truth. It would then follow that the goal of the truth-seeker is to help people in this disclosure — it is to defeat the illusory representations that prevent us from seeing the world the way it is. There is no propositional truth to be had until this first task is complete.
This is the key to understanding why hackers like Jeremy Hammond are held in such high regard by their supporters. They aren't just fellow activists or fellow hackers — they are defending us from epistemic attack. Their actions help lift the hood that is periodically pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth.
Peter Ludlow is a professor of philosophy at Northwestern University and is currently co-producing (with Vivien Weisman) a documentary on Hacktivist actions against private intelligence firms and the surveillance state.
Edward Butterworth Victoria BC
I totally agree but you do not go half far enough. It is philosophy's job to reveal the truth but also, in my opinion, to speculate how we might resolve problems that are revealed rather than be resigned to endless decline. The future is the realm of possibilities which can be a creative, evolutionary response to an unprecedented crisis (climate change). In my view it will take nothing less than a paradigm shift, the breaking of the hegemony of the US elite and their clones around the world. Recent leaks are undermining the credibility of the established order which is the basis of their power. If Bradley Manning is jailed for years will he be forgotten or will he be a martyr for a growing movement who see him as a prisoner of conscience, joined by Hammond, Snowden and maybe Assange? Each one of them undermines the vitality of the planet-destroying system which we have made and now need to unmake
Mr. Butterworth: And after you break "the hegemony of the US elite and their clones around the world," just who do you suppose will fill that vacuum? Hint: it could very well be something that is incalculably worse for the planet, its people and Western democratic, humanitarian values
There is no "planet-destroying system." There are only large players who are occasionally discovered to be doing things, often unintentionally, that are not environmentally or socially sound. There are smaller players guilty of the same thing. The idea that there is some over-arching conspiracy to destroy the planet is ludicrous, as is the idea that the system as designed is leading us to Doomsday. It is in no one's interest for that to happen. If the players in the world- national-, or local economies are actually doing harm, they need to be regulated by government. Government is arguably doing its job in that regard, although I could easily argue it's overdoing it and violating the rights of people under our Constitution and others around the world
Who is regulating government? If the AP, Fox News, IRS and now the Prism and other surveillance scandals are any indication, the answer is, "No One."
Great article. The dark arts and dirty tricks of shaping public opinion and influencing media is not new, but it's refreshing to see reporting on specific incidents to educate people on the degree to which the effort is made and the shape and style in which these tasks are performed. Goebbels is rightfully vilified in history, but US lobbying and p.r. groups seem to be able to freely plagiarize his playbook with impunity. Great to see a national press organization shine the light on it. If only that light could shine a bit brighter while it's happening instead of after the fact. As for Morning Edition...it's been whoring as an echo chamber for these types for years
EDJ Canaan, NY
Americans are being reduced to low information serfs in a neo-feudal society. Ruled by a plutocratic elite who own not only most of our country's wealth, but who are able through their lobbyists to control the actions of all three branches of government, and in concert with international businesses, propagandistic think takes, ownership of news media, and significant control of corporate academe, these new Lords can now reconstitute realty to serve whatever interests suit their pleasure
In a word, Americans have lost sovereignty over our rights as citizens, our claims to an equitable share of America's wealth, and now are losing control over access to fundamental knowledge about what constitutes social realty. Friendly fascism not only allows for a material monopoly over property, jobs, laws, civil rights, and all the other various constructs that make possible the integrity of our human selves, but through mass technology and the corporate intelligence industry that manipulates our consumption of knowledge, we are at risk of losing the ability to understand what is being done to us and who is doing it
Re Danny P
We had the War, and the draft, and Nixon, all real and defined clearly on TV every day
The power of our government, the press and the Chamber of Commerce ended Occupy. A2
omega shetland islands
They didn't end Occupy. The Chamber of Commerce, much like a virus, tried to attack the integrity and health of Occupy, but only succeeded in helping to distribute the idea on an exponentially more widespread basis
Grand Pianos in every park in America. Expect us
Whatever the arguments about the legality of the actions under Prism, it is not sufficient for justice to be done; it must be seen to be done. Much of the furor over the issue is that not only are the details kept secret, so is the process itself (or at least it was until Mr Snowden went public)
Diana Moses Arlington, MA
There seems to me to be a big strand in all this of people doing whatever so long as they can get away with it, an absence of the ability to police the self in the presence of a temptation. Maybe we need to bring back the honor code in all kinds on contexts, including in education, and train people how to use it so they get in the habit. As it is, I think a lot of these people in public life behave as if they need supervision, someone to say to them, "What were you thinking? No, that's not okay; it may be clever and you may have a spiffy rationale for it, but no, it's not okay." I would sum up the issue as "poor judgment." How do we form an apparatus to make wise judgments? Not through STEM education, I would argue. One of the tried and true methods is to teach a person skills and then put them in such a difficult situation that they are forced to see the world differently from the way they did before. Think of rites of passage or The Fall. That gives the participant a basis for humility, for a recognition of a need for pluralism, and for compassion for others, I think
Danny P Warrensburg
I've always found recognition of a need for pluralism to be the opposite of an honor-code-personal-responsibility-wise-choices ethic. Seeking out broad agreement or many different viewpoints inevitably moves one away from the top-shelf mentalities and towards a lowest common denominator style of thinking. Pluralism, to me at least, is middling more than anything else.
Entitlement or false belief in superiority may lead one well down a wrong path much farther, to a place far below average, but I'd prefer people gamble on being above average than settling for just average. I think there's a reason why the word "peerless" was once considered a compliment but has fallen out of usage these days
Diana Moses Arlington, MA
I think the source for so much guidance is being able to walk a mile in others' moccasins -- that kind of pluralism I don't think is at odds with behaving in a way that serves regardless of who is watching, I think the two go hand in hand. Maybe I shouldn't have used the word "pluralism"?
Surprising that Mr. Ludlow makes no mention of so-called Think Tank industry, particularly the hundreds that have sprung on the right over the past years. Most are little more than propaganda mills subsidized by wealthy private and corporate interests and whose activity encompasses both public and private issues - provided a line can actually be drawn between these spheres any longer. In fact, think tanks seem to be in the business of confusing just such matters given the often parade themselves as serving the public interest while in truth operating with a private agenda, But sowing confusion and working to dis-inform the electorate are par for the course with outfits like these. So one has to wonder how the private psyops firms Mr. Ludlow details really differ from think tanks industry on fundamental strategy. Is it scope of the issues? The scale of the operation? How they are funded? What's the real difference, if any?
Bill Gilwood San Dimas, CA
While we're at it, which of the big stories and social movements during my lifetime (mid 50's onward) were influenced by psyops and how and by who?
C Wolfe Bloomington, IN
I'm shocked by the high percentage of Americans who are untroubled by surveillance issues — mainly, it seems, because they are confident they're doing nothing wrong. But that depends on who's defining "wrong"
When the POTUS comes to town, it's become conventional to set aside so-called "free speech" zones, and only there are you allowed to display protest placards. I can't believe people have acquiesced to this severe violation of their right to free assembly and speech. If you demonstrate outside this zone, that would give cause to treat you as a criminal, and all the data collected on you could be arranged to show who-knows-what. You could have the wrong associates and get branded a potential terrorist: maybe you have a friend in PETA or go out for a drink with somebody you work with who (perhaps unbeknownst to you) belongs to an organization that engages in direct-action anit-abortion or environmentalist protests, or sends money to a Palestinian aid group. These days, that's enough to arrest a citizen—and if enough mistaken inferences are drawn, to "disappear" you without access to an attorney, or make you the target of a drone
So while I have nothing to hide, how do I know some critical mass of associations I'm not even aware of won't trigger an alert? I'm four times more like to be struck by lightning than to be the victim of a terrorist attack. The odds of some private-contractor bozo making an error and trampling on my rights seems much higher, and increasing
Bill Gilwood San Dimas, CA
Psyops is used in our elections
What role does technological change play in this? I am of two (or maybe more) minds on this
First, maybe things aren't really worse than they used to be. Maybe this type of thing has been going on for a long time. Or perhaps, it has increased but primarily due to changes in the culture that are not related to technology
But maybe technology really does play an important role here. Are we discovering technologically-enabled changes in the ease of disseminating falsehoods as a large-scale and well-organized enterprise?
On the other hand, 50 years ago, without an insider turning informant, the only way such activities would come to light would have been through a physical (as opposed to a virtual) break-in, which seems close to impossible to pull off
Is there actually more disinformation because of technology, or are we just hearing about it more because more of it coming to light due to technology?
Sal Anthony Queens, NY
In keeping with your perspective, if we juxtapose the increasing sphere of freedom and human action, I'd wager that disinformation and deception are not keeping pace. That is, consider how circumscribed in every possible way the lives of our predecessors were compared to ours. From that point of view, all these "assaults on our reality" are piddling compared with how varied and rich that reality now is
Using a concrete example, think about how many physical places and websites you've visited and how many calls and emails and texts and twitters you've made and how many electronic devices and video games and books you've used, just, say, in the past month. All of your transactions and travels and online connections, all of the arduous labor you're not engaging in because of automobiles and washing machines and airplanes and smart phones, and so on
Simply put, deception is what put Socrates to death, and it has been pulling the wool over the eyes of humanity since time began. However, with eyes that now see deep into the quantum realm and far to the outer galaxies, it will take more wool than all the sheep in England for the deceivers to do the kind of deceiving they've been doing since Eve made Adam eat the apple
Optimistically, S.A. Traina
June 15, 2013 at 4:39 p.m. Recommended2
The professor seems to believe that the groups that are hacking and are being monitored by private intelligence companies are themselves conveying a certain indisputable truth, presumably because they are well-intentioned. That is, philosophically, an unsupportable position. Does everyone believe that PETA is truthful in all their communications. Or Occupy Austin? Has it not occurred to the professor that this really is not about epistemology, but about trying to combat what those companies who hire private intelligence contractors believe to be misinformation? That they are combating propaganda meant to damage them and their ability to conduct business because of the inherent biases of those who espouse a radical left-wing agenda?
The actions of hackers do not necessarily "lift the hood that is periodically pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth." They occasionally tell us something we may not know, but I think most hackers are self-promoting, narcissistic individuals who ignore how important corporations are to comfort and well-being of all people who use their products and services.
The anti-corporate mentality that assumes that all corporations are bad and are working to the detriment of society is a mark of immature thinking. The grandiosity of the people (usually young and cynical) who hack and think they are saving society is evident every time they attempt to justify their illegal actions. They should not be celebrated by philosophy or society
elementaryschoolvolunteer, Bradenton, FL
Organize Flash Mob boycotts on-line: People agree to boycott a corporation for a week or a month. If enough people join in that sales significantly decrease for that period, consumers/citizens might gain some control over corporations. Those behind advertising and political spin might have to rethink how they try to control us
June 15, 2013 at 3:43 p.m. Recommended9
Beluga Barb Seattle, WA
It's terrifying but true: law enforcement just like anyone else is going to fry the fish it can most easily. So the already impotent citizen gets the shaft, while major corporations and bed boys of the security-technology complex operate a high tech, powerful, criminal gang
This article is highly disturbing
It's a favorite of law enforcement everywhere to incarcerate and otherwise attack citizens with marginal, vague charges like harassment and disorderly conduct.
And yet here we have large scale, malicious, defamatory activities specifically designed not to just harass but effectively destroy citizen causes. Even if the FBI is not serving as the personal investigator for these companies, this type of behavior from these corporations - de facto domestic "non-violent" terrorists - needs to be criminally prosecuted.
June 15, 2013 at 3:25 p.m. Recommended14
michael birmingham, alabama
In a society that has raised millions of people who are walled-off from the real world and plugged into "virtual reality," e-friends, and video simulations, and a strong sense of entitlement, I can only think that this problem will get much, much worse--if only because governmental and private intel agencies will have their pick of employees among an increasing pool of moral relativists and social misfits
Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said
June 15, 2013 at 2:56 p.m. Recommended4
Daniel12 Wash. D.C
If American society--and the people of the world as well--are really serious about creating a humanity which is "not taken in by deceptive practices"--and by "really serious" I mean with no playing of political games of either left or right and foisting paranoid views on society--what we need is a total psychological project by the whole of society to determine characteristics of people "who are taken in easily, fooled easily in life" as well as determine those "who are not taken in easily in life".--And perhaps genetically create "non-fools in life"
The fact is it seems the norm that people are "easily taken in, fooled in life". We do not need to make great efforts to deceive people. This proposition can be easily tested on oneself by observing how easily one sinks into the enjoyment of a film or how easily one is taken in by a piece of sleight of hand in a game of cards. Most of us humans seem quite biologically formed for being deceived in life. To speak in "Matrix terms", if we quite easily lose ourselves while watching a film, enter the "reality of the film"--a two hour event--imagine the effect on a person of being born into "a deceptive event" which persists over a lifetime, such as fascist or communist or religious propaganda. In fact all of reality could be a deception
But we might get best results for our species by trusting the views of those people who have demonstrated greatest natural ability not to be fooled, not be taken in by ANY event in life..
June 15, 2013 at 2:37 p.m. Recommended3
Hypatia Santa Monica CA
It's even worse than I thought. Thank you, Peter Ludlow (I guess) for chilling my blood with these detailed revelations
As a college student decades ago, I couldn't sleep for a week after reading "1984". Not surprising that after revelations of government wrong-doing, the book is flying off the shelves, as a new generations discovers how our democracy is being systematically undermined via the unholy alliance between government and private , for-profit "Big Brothers"
John T NY
"When this was exposed during the Iran-Contra hearings, one top administration official described the activities of the Office of Public Diplomacy as one of their really great achievements. It was, he said, a spectacular success. He described it as the kind of operation that you carry out in enemy territory. And that's quite an appropriate phrase. I think the phrase expresses exactly the way in which the public is viewed by people with power: it's an enemy, it's a domestic enemy." - Noam Chomsky
I have found this quote of Chomsky increasingly relevant these days
As Chomsky points out, the only thing the power elite in this country are really afraid of is the American domestic population. That is because the domestic population is the only threat to their power. For the power elite, the domestic population is and always has been the primary enemy and the primary thing which must be controlled
boson777 palo alto CA
With Snowden's report, cameras on every corner, and a host of other Orwellian realities emerging, articles like this of mister Ludlow naturally follow. But when, we should ask our selves, exactly was the golden dawn when disinformation wasn't so prevalent? I grew up in the 1950s, when happiness was defined by washing machines, vacuums, TV, amphetamines, and lynchings of people with different skin tones. The father of marketing in the US, and now the globe, was Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays. The father of advertising was behaviorist J. B. Watson. Before internet computing we had J. Edgar Hoover and the tape recording machine. Really, was there ever a time Business didn't lie to the public to get at their money, or that government didn't sneak around and kill their enemies in dark corners? I think the difference between then and now is that now such activity gets leaked more often, whereas our predecessors simply lived in the fantasy world created for them by the oligarchy and their henchmen, the government
June 15, 2013 at 12:07 p.m. Recommended28
Josh Hill New London
Don't you think, though, that the balance of power has shifted? Those forces were always present and powerful, to be sure, but we had a powerful reform movement in the United States -- TR, Wilson, FDR, Truman, JFK, Johnson. And during that golden period, there was a justified sense that the people were making progress, that government, despite abuses like those that occurred during the McCarthy era, was basically on the public's side
Now, the best we can hope for is a centrist Democrat like Clinton or Obama who is able to prevent the radical right from imposing complete insanity, but not stem the erosion of our civil liberties, our democratic institutions, and the American Dream
James Mathieu Jackson, Wyoming
The allegory of Plato's cave endures and is certainly apt in this overview of public/private espionage/hacking/hacktivism. There is a critical difference though ..
Plato contended that those who seek and then discover the source of the light would return to the cave and become "philosopher/kings". These "Philosopher Kings" were better qualified to rule than the politicians (who also happened to cause Athens to fall to Sparta). Jeremy Hammond and Edward Snowdon would be Plato's candidates to return to the cave and to dispell the shaodws on the wall
George Friedman would be the historical equivalent of an Athenian politician who is, therefore, untrustworthy and manipulative. I agree with the writer from Utah, Mr. Mabbutt, because Goldman Sachs and Monsanto would have created the cave in the first place, but they would forever deny there was a different source of light. Of course the Philosopher Kings would disagree, but their brave proof would not allign with the "national interest"
Robert Naperville, IL
The effort to manipulate others by conveying to them selected information is known also as campaigning and advertising.
The private security agencies described are operating like marketing companies or churches, doing what they can to promote a product even if that involves trashing the product's competitors. "Epistemic attack" is a typical human behavior. I agree with your conclusion: we tend to admire individuals like Hammond and Snowden unless they are revealing deceptions that tend to support our interests. Then, of course, they're traitors or criminals
Uziel Nogueira Florianopolis - SC - Brasil
The use of deception and surveillance by private companies in the cyberspace is not the problem. Wall Street has been doing that for decades. The only difference is the new medium (cyberspace) in which deception takes place
The problem is state cyber espionage aimed at population control and power. I am not afraid of travel companies sending sales people to harass me at home
However, I'm very much afraid of having the man in black coming to my house, detaining and interrogating me and my family because an exchange of emails I had with someone considered a terrorist by the Brazilian state
June 15, 2013 at 11:27 a.m. Recommended17
Dan Mabbutt Utah
A great article that has made effective use of history ("what has happened") to guide policy ("what should happen")
One of my favorites is the life of George Orwell (pen name of Eric Arthur Blair) who spent the years of WWII as a propagandist and then wrote "Animal Farm" and "1984" about the inevitable result of propaganda and social control
As we contemplate this war for mind share, we should not forget the real wars that often accompany them. The demonstrated willingness of Assad and his followers to destroy all of Syria -- and indeed, all of the Middle East or even the world -- to preserve their own power should make us appreciate the difficulty of dislodging, for example, Goldman Sachs or Monsanto from their positions of power and privilege
June 15, 2013 at 10:20 a.m. Recommended38
Ethan New York, NY
The parallel of physical, ground wars to the ones in cyberspace, and the methods of deception they both share is indeed an excellent point. One should also remember that the government employs contractors on the ground same as they do in cyberspace, as described in this article. Blackwater, anyone? http://bit.ly/a41K8J
June 15, 2013 at 1:04 p.m. Recommended5
Alex p It
Good examples, though out of momentum. In fact, then internet surveillance is focused on tangling "different" metadata to figure out a comprehensive profile of a person. Your suggestion, otherwise, involves a man(organization)- in- a- box. Out of that he(it) simply doesn't exist. Following the Plato's cave mith, when people in finally destroy their chains and get out o the cave, they see a big tall wall with idols upon it. Then they simply substitute the shadows they sought, with the newly images imposed at superior heights. So, substituting self-made images with self-evident ones isn't helpful, in-a-box, or out-of-a-box, until elaboration don't get started, we actually say thinking about truth. By the way, in Plato the search of truth pushed some people to jump over the wall. But this is another story, i suppose
A Reader Ohio
Thanks for these interesting glimpses of "epistemic warfare."
I would like to see more philosophical discussion of the epistemological and ethical dimensions of these facts. This particular essay has little philosophy in it. For instance, the Heideggerian point about "uncovering" could be developed in a couple of directions. Heidegger would point out that (1) even the most outrageous delusions already involve some type of uncovering -- but the phenomena have been misinterpreted, and (2) no unconcealment is total, and we never simply see "the world the way it is" -- aletheia is necessarily accompanied by lethe. Apart from Heidegger, one could debate whether maximum disclosure is good, or under which circumstances.
I am a bit disappointed in the Times' proofreading: "a principle project" should be "a principal project."
June 15, 2013 at 9:28 a.m. Recommended2
Steve Bolger New York City
I suppose philosophy is another pursuit that attracts people who like to argue endlessly over what smarter dead people were really thinking when they had some insight that can only be recaptured today by necromancy
Sal Anthony Queens, NY
Wonderful wordplay. And yet, it is indeed the grandest and the most practical of all pursuits, seeking to distill the eternal from the lesser disciplines of art and science, seeking to inform aspiring artists, scientists and struggling thinkers, and forming the metaphysical sphere within which consciousness itself operates. As for the dead being smarter and wiser than their successors, yes and no - talent and tenacity in studying those who came before lead many a great thinker to leapfrog his predecessors, just as torpitude and incapacity lead a great many more to fall short
Marilyn Delson Troy, NY
One of the most thoughtful, intriguing, and frightening excerpts I've read in a long time. The evaporation of the Occupy Movement was such a disappointment for progressives.
I'm sure there's a blockbuster story behind its demise for an enterprising investigative journalist, assuming they still exist anywhere
mancuroc Rochester, NY
There's no mystery about why the Occupy movement evaporated
First, the media fell over themselves to give it the minimum and least favorable coverage
Second, but more important - and I write as one in total sympathy with Occupy's cause - it contributed to its own demise by not adopting even a rudimentary leadership. and by refusing to get involved in electoral politics. If you want to get anywhere when the dice are already loaded against you, you need one or two people out front as spokespersons. Occupy turned its back on any idea of working even with sympathetic individual Democratic politicians. Granted, the Tea Party was a well-backed and not entirely grass-roots affair, but look at the hold it has over the GOP
It's painful to say so, but there's no blockbuster investigation needed. Occupy blew its chance, big time
That said, I don't doubt that if Occupy had chosen more bite to go along with its bark, the establishment would have aimed all its overt and covert weapons against it
Phillip Wynn Cincinnati
Sorry, mancuroc, but there's already evidence easily available that DHS & prob. other federal agencies coordinated a suppression response to Occupy with big city mayors across the country. More than one journalist has long since pointed out that the Occupy movement didn't fade out: it was deliberately squashed, accompanied by much illegality and police violence
What we need to know is the extent to which info derived from gvt surveillance was directly employed or shared with other entities re the Occupy movement, and while we're at it the Tea Party, and any other individuals or groups which are regarded as dissenters. Based on human nature as revealed by even recent history, we can all be confident that such abuse of power has occurred. We just don't know the extent of it
mancuroc Rochester, NY
@Phillip Wynn - you seem better informed than I am on the response to the Occupy movement so I'll concede there is something to it. However, I stand by my contention that the movement contributed to its own demise through sheer incompetence
Democratic leaders have bought into much of the pro-corporate conservative dogma, but there are plenty of grass roots Dems, including the progressive caucus in Congress, that haven't. Occupy collectively felt itself too superior to descend to party politics, so it surrendered leverage and drove away sympathetic Democrats. Bad move
Dean Charles Marshall California
Here's what I find most troubling, embedded amongst us are fellow Americans, like the folks at Stratfor and their ilk, displaying a rather deceitful and perverse take on "truth, justice and the American way" and seemingly getting well paid to do it. Not only is this incredibly scandalous, but treasonous as well. More proof that our democracy has been hijacked by a cabal of "racketeering" special interests willing to use any and all means of subterfuge and psyops to circumvent our Constitution in the name of inverted totalitarianism. Sure begs the question, was the USA Patriots Act really about catching foreign terrorists or was it the precursor for enslaving American citizens?
Lenny Pittsfield, MA
The way I see it, we all are strongly drawn to be in the cave and to stay in the cave facing the wall of illusions. And, when we we make our own attempts to draw us out of the cave into the actual world, or when others make efforts to bring us outside, we resist. I am very much concerned about this latest age of communication we are in; concerned because the evidence from outside of the cave is that so many of us are on our computers, are using our hand held devices, are on our cell phones in and out of our cars, have ear buds in our ears, are immersed in computer games, prefer video reporting to written articles, mistakenly value on-line pseudo encyclopedias as reliable scholarly sources, and take college courses on line rather than in classrooms with actual fellow students and actual live-in-the-present teachers. While we are this way, and if we continue to be this way, we do not and we will not actually know what is happening to ourselves and to others
June 15, 2013 at 8:50 a.m. Recommended12
Hans Nepomuk in Los Angeles, Ca Los Angeles, CA
This all sounds like children's games played by adults, for fun and profit. This sounds like "The rime of the Ancient Mariner" prosified. I think good philosophy must have more on its mind
Steve Bolger New York Cityzb bc
That is exactly what it is. We pay tax, the government pays an entity of the Bush family empire call Booz Allen Hamilton to do the work, Carlyle Group owns that, and the Bush family and Carlyle have a mutually beneficial arrangement that gives Carlyle top level access to everything the snoop empire dreams of for further contracts to supply it
June 15, 2013 at 10:45 a.m. Recommended9
You really don't have to look this far for deception. Its called Capitalism. Not only are American Businesses manipulating our minds to get us to buy their junk most of which is poison either to our self or our environment, but they use addictive additives to make the manipulation all the more powerful
ann san pedro, ca
The naivete of people who think this just popped up from nowhere is astounding. Since the invention of an almost unaccountable secret government over 60 years ago we have lived in a surveillance state.
Many have taken it too far. Hoover used it for personal power. Nixon used it for personal power. It has been part of our government for a long time and is part of our national infrastructure. It didn't start with the Patriot Act. It just got bigger
Laird Wilcox Kansas
Many of these firms are doing much, much more than gathering intelligence for government agencies, they are feeding them the information they want them to have and some of them are freely sharing information with Israeli intelligence. They are not disinterested parties or neutral professionals going about their tasks with no dog in the fight. They are part of a large covert apparatus.
For one thing, they have to gin up enough of a threat for us to obsess about to keep themselves employed. What they would like least of all is for a situation to develop where they are no longer viewed as necessary. They have every interest in keeping conflict going and in exaggerating the threat of domestic terrorism. Like any other business, unless they can create a demand for their product they are soon out of existence
For another, many of them have obvious political interests in the direction our country takes on various issues, particularly as they relate to Israel and the Middle East. What is needed is a detailed investigation into the nature, composition and activities of these firms. Penetrating the security curtain surrounding them would be a difficult task, however. They have created a structure and a climate that allows them to act with almost no oversight
It's a particularly dangerous thing for our country when our security and intelligence apparatus is not in direct control of the American people and works to pursue private interests. This is not a small matter
Useful article. Thanks
That people only present information that is welcome to them (Chris, NYC) because they "know" their cause to be just, well we knew that. In a way you are an example of that yourself, because you leave out the possibility that Stratfor might also manipulate foes of the American people (to which you probably would not object because these foes are holding false opinions to start with, right?)
That people actually make up information to support their "just" cause, because the ends justify the means (most religions do this), well we knew that too
That people make up FALSE information, attribute it to somebody else and subsequently "uncover" the falsehood, was a complication I was not consciously aware of
The only advice I can give if this happens to you: admit the falsehood right away. Both parties mentioned above are easily recognizable because they will start defending the falsehood
C. Whiting Madison, WI
This is one of the most intriguing and concerning articles I have read in a major newspaper. I actually find it astonishing that it sits here next to pieces by David Brooks et. al. Nicely reported, Mr. Ludlow
June 15, 2013 at 7:47 a.m. Recommended52
What I don't like about all the Wiki-type exposers is that they only want to expose the US. Is this because Daniel Ellsburg already proved to the world that the US government can not and will not kill you for exposing its doings? (If you are on their payroll they can imprison you.) Meanwhile all the governments that do kill people for that and for much less can continue to do it, and can keep improving their game with the info released by the hackers premature releases of information, which often seem to be done at least partly out of the desire for publicity, which, again, can easiest be found in the US
June 15, 2013 at 7:47 a.m. Recommended3
Matthew Cross Detroit
These are U.S. citizens blowing the whistle on what the U.S. government is doing. That is their first responsibility as citizens, to their own nation. I can talk all day about all the horrible things Russia or Colombia are doing, but since I'm not from those countries, it carries little weight. Our attention should be on where I live, since I can have a much greater impact, and it's my county. Besides, you must concede that the U.S. is the greatest world power in history. Our influence around the globe, militarily and commercially (those usually work hand in hand), is beyond anything that any previous country/empire/imperial power has enjoyed. That certainly adds to our responsibility as citizens to hold our own government accountable, since what happens here often has a much greater impact on the rest of the world
June 15, 2013 at 9:21 a.m. Recommended16
Mike Hihn Boise, ID
Edward Snowden has more details on our surveillance than the intelligence oversight subcommittee -- per an interview with the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Oversight Committee, now on the NPR website. To be fair, she does not make that conclusion in the interview, but see how little even she is allowed to know
How can Congress possibly meet its Constitutional check and balance over the Executive?
NPR link: http://tinyurl.com/k9taeew
John Northern California
I love the way the NYTimes is consistently about ten to fifteen years behind smart people. Next you'll realize Obama's Nobel "Peace" Prize was entirely a PC effort, too
Bill Benton San Francisco
Excellent piece. Thanks, Peter Ludlow and NY Times
Also thanks, Wikileaks, Jeremy Hammond, and all the other hackers who have brought to light things that the forces of evil want to keep hidden. Sunlight is the best disinfectant -- leaking should not be a crime. But covering up government theft and malfeasance and incompetence should be
I wonder why Great Britain has stepped in the Snowden affair? It is disappointing to see that the lapdog policies of GB haven't changed since Tony Blair led his nation into the Iraq disaster
Excellent writing and research. I only wish there was 1000 more just like you, as intent on sharing what is really going on behind the scenes, as there are those who do their best to deceive. Please keep on doing what far too few do these days-tell the American people the truth
SpecialAgent, A New York City
This is probably the most important and provocative essay on contemporary philosophy ever written in America. And it has 39 comments? Share widely, defend reality and consciousness. Defend freedom of mind
Philip Thrift Addison, Texas
Ironically, it is only the federal government through laws that can protect individual persons (that's us) from corporations' use of our data. An example is the health care law, which would prevent the private insurance industry from using individuals' data to deny or strip them of coverage. In the Tea-Party/Republican nirvana of a limited federal government, the strongest corporations would be the masters of our data and the controllers of our lives
June 15, 2013 at 7:21 a.m. Recommended23
pieceofcake konstanz germany
In case you have missed it - the American surveillance state had arrived - ever since I booked something on the Internet and suddenly all these travel-ads appeared
So please - as a wiser man suggested: The internet is "the Surveillance State" - and much better in "surveillance" than the American government ever could be
The American government is just like us - we have to go begging to google or facebook that they hand over some of the data they have on us - while American cooperations get it for free!
And I tell you that's the real scandal!
This piece should be read in the context of the recent announcement by the Pentagon that it declares the current war zone or battlefield to be the entire earth, which means they include the United States as well. (I do recognize that part of Ludlow's wider point is that, the problem is not just the Pentagon or NSA, it's numerous private companies that are the militant forces here). Truly strange that many people say we should "just trust" these agencies and private companies, even though not only did Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just lie to Congress this year about spying on US citizens, but also --- as Ludlow points out --- these entities have as their express goal carrying out PsyOps (falsehood, lies, propaganda, mind games) on the American people and the press.
NPR just reported on plans by these agencies and companies to plant fake "honeypot" documents for concerned citizens to find --- so as to trap them. (NPR neglected to mention the discredit-the-messenger part that Ludlow focuses on here.)
"Defense Department Trying To Plug Leaks Before They Happen" NPR June 14, 2013 at 3pm. Numerous people have already been or are currently being threatened with undeserved prison sentences for trying to get the truth out to the public: Thomas Drake, Barrett Brown ( freebarrettbrown dot org ), Jeremy Hammond ( freejeremy dot net ), and Bradley Manning ( bradleymanning dot org )
sdavidc9 Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut
Agent provocateurs are as old as political forces who believe that the ends justify the means. Hacking is only a way of catching them. Propaganda and Big Lies predate computers, as did the East German Stasi. Computers and the Internet make this sort of thing cheaper while also increasing exponentially the amount of communication that must be monitored
Plato had something much more pervasive and fundamental in mind. The lowest level of the cave was the province of advertising and salesmanship in general, and the sort of negative campaigns and character assassination disclosed by the noble hackers is just one type of this unreality, and by far not the most pervasive or even the most dangerous. The alternate univese of Fox is not maintained by these sorts of secret manipulations of public opinion, and is philosophically both more interesting and more important
June 15, 2013 at 2:01 a.m. Recommended4
Kevin M. Gallagher Amherst, MA
It's important to note that much of what we know about Team Themis, and in turn the shady corners of the the private intelligence contracting industry, is owed to the investigative journalist Barrett Brown and his crowd-sourced wiki Project PM. He was a pioneer as far as researching stories found in the leaked e-mails from HBGary and Stratfor. Now he's been indicted three times, and sits in a Texas prison awaiting trial, looking at up to 105 years maximum
I definitely think the heavy-handed treatment and excessive prosecution in his case is a retaliatory punishment for his journalism digging into these firms that are involved in surveillance. The government is going after him the same way they do with any whistleblower or hacktivist that they don't like or agree with. It's crazy
Worst of all, one of the charges he's facing a LOT of time for equates to sharing a link (to Stratfor data). Which of you feels it's reasonable to charge someone w/ identity theft and fraud for pasting a hyperlink? It's absurd, as if they expect us to check every link that the content doesn't contain anything illegal and then hold us responsible for whatever the receiver does with it.
Know what else, BB was looking into Booz Allen Hamilton, the employer of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, before he got arrested. He recorded a phone call w/ their Vice President in which he lied about their involvement w/ HBGary in the Team Themis affair.
...When Greenwald and his colleagues began working with Snowden, he said they realized that they'd have to act in a way that wasn't on par with how the mainstream media has acted up until now.
"We resolved that we were going to have to be very disruptive of the status quo — not only the surveillance and political status quo, but also the journalistic status quo," Greenwald said. "And I think one of the ways that you can see what it is that we were targeting is in the behavior of the media over the past six months since these revelations have emerged almost entirely without them and despite them."
"[W]e knew in particular that one of our most formidable adversaries was not simply going to be the intelligence agencies on which we were reporting and who we were trying to expose, but also their most loyal, devoted servants, which calls itself the United States and British media."
"It really is the case that the United States and British governments are not only willing but able to engage in any conduct no matter how grotesque," Greenwald said.
Nevertheless, he added, journalists tasked with reporting on those issues have all too often been compliant with the blatant lies made by officials from those governments.
Halfway through his remarks, Greenwald recalled a recent quip he made while being interviewed by BBC about the necessity of a functioning media in an environment where government officials can spew untruths to reporters without being questioned.
"[A]t one point I made what I thought was the very unremarkable and uncontroversial observation that the reason why we have a free press is because national security officials routinely lie to the population in order to shield their power and get their agenda advanced," recalled Greenwald, who said it is both the "the goal and duty of a journalist is to be adversarial to those people in power."
According to Greenwald, the BBC reporter met his remark with skepticism.
"I just cannot believe that you would suggest that senior officials, generals in the US and the British government, are actually making false claims to the public," he remembered being told on-air.
"It really is the central view of certainly American and British media stars, that when — especially people with medals on their chest who are called generals, but also high officials in the government — make claims that those claims are presumptively treated as true without evidence. And that it's almost immoral to call them into question or to question their voracity," he said.
"Obviously we went through the Iraq War, in which those very two same governments specifically and deliberately lied repeatedly to the government, to their people, over the course of two years to justify an aggressive war that destroyed a country of 26 million people. But we've seen it continuously over the last six months as well."
From there, he went on to cite the example of US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who earlier this year made remarks to Congress that were quickly proved false by documents leaked to Greenwald by Mr. Snowden. The very first National Security Agency document he was shown, Greenwald said,
"revealed that the Obama administration had succeeded in convincing court, a secret court, to compel phone companies to turn over to the NSA every single phone record of every single telephone call."
Clapper "went to the Senate and lied to their faces...which is at least as serious of a crime as anything Edward Snowden is accused of," Greenwald added.
But DNI Clapper aside, Greenwald said that the established media continues to reject the notion that government officials spew lies. Snowden's NSA documents have exposed those fibs on more than one occasion, he noted, yet reporters around the world continue to take the word of officials as fact rather than dig from the truth.
"Their role is not to be adversarial. Their role is to be loyal spokespeople to those powerful factions that they pretend to exercise oversight," Greenwald said.
But as the US, UK and other governments continue to feed the media lies, Greenwald said their operations are far from being single-pronged. The US
"knows that its only hope for continuing to maintain its regiment of secrecy behind which it engages with radical and corrupt acts is to intimidate and deter and threaten people who are would-be whistleblowers and transparency activists from coming forward and doing what it is that they do by showing them that they'll be subjected to even the most extreme punishments and there's nothing that they can do about it," he said. "And it's an effective tactic."
Ironically, he added, those nations are "fueling the fire of this activism with their own abusive behavior."
... ... ...
The NSA's goal, Greenwald said, is to "ensure that all forms of human communication . . .are collected, monitored, stored and analyzed by that agency and by their allies."
greencrow 27.12.2013 23:41
I will not accept the legitimacy of Snowden or Greenwald (or anyone else) until they subject themselves to the litmus test of truth...i.e., say whether or not they believe the 9/11 "official story". If they believe the 19 muslims with boxcutters/man on dialysis in a cave story...they are useless or worse. They need to let the world know where they stand on 9/11. They owe it to the world and it should be no problem for them to tell us where they stand...they should not be hiding it. One way or the other we are entitled to know.
Babeouf 27.12.2013 23:22
During their battles with Irish Republicans in Northern Ireland the British Security services funded protestant para- military death squads to murder those suspected of aiding the Republicans. This process went on for about twenty years in Northern Ireland a part of the UK. And in all that time the BBC reported nothing of any substance of what was an is a huge domestic political
scanda l. If its a war involving Britain the BBC is worse than useless. Similarly if the British security services are involved.
CapistranoFish 27.12.2013 23:12
As an american citizen I have to go to RT to get real news about my own country. But please don't lump all Americans into one category--many of us are waking up, many of us care, and many of us are independent journalists digging for the real truth ourselves.
Rush Limbaugh likes to call himself "the most dangerous man in America." He offers this epithet tongue in cheek on his radio program, but the truth is, he isn't kidding. Over the decade and more that Limbaugh has ruled America's talk-radio landscape, it has become inescapably clear that he is, if nothing else, certainly the most dangerous demagogue in America, maybe in history.
In terms of his breadth of reach as a political propagandist, he has no real parallel in American history. The closest might be the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, known to his radio audience of the 1920s and '30s as "Father Coughlin." Coughlin started out as an anti-communist firebrand, and by 1930, his weekly broadcasts reached an audience estimated at 45 million. (Limbaugh claims a weekly audience of 20 million.) He was a major supporter of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, but turned on FDR shortly afterward and became a severe critic of the administration through most of its tenure.
Coughlin, who was attracted to the Jewish conspiracy theories promulgated by Henry Ford's 1932 anti-Semitic tome, The International Jew, became increasingly extremist in his tone and delivery, accusing FDR of being a tool of the evil cabal that secretly ran the world. He was a significant spokesman for the "America First" movement, which advocated American non-involvement in the growing strife in Europe and Asia. And he was an inspiration for a whole generation of anti-Semites who went on to found such movements as Christian Identity and Posse Comitatus.
Limbaugh, in contrast, has always carefully eschewed conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism. Through most of the first decade of his radio career, his primary schtick has been to rail against the government and its supposed takeover of our daily lives. This anti-government propaganda has served one main purpose: To drive a wedge between middle- and lower-class workers and the one entity that has the real (if sometimes abused or neglected) capability to protect them from the ravages of wealthy class warriors and swarms of corporate wolves.
Limbaugh likes to bill himself as an "entertainer," but he is more accurately understood as a propagandist. He shows no interest in actually furthering the public debate: opposing views are rarely if ever invited onto his show, and when they are they invariably receive the kind of ham-handed mistreatment that has become common on Limbaugh's television counterpart, Bill O'Reilly's Fox talk show.
And there can be little doubt as to the effectiveness of Limbaugh's propaganda: In the intervening years, it has become an object of faith, particularly in rural America where Limbaugh's broadcasts can often be heard multiple times throughout the day, that the government is in itself evil, a corrupt entity, something to be distrusted and feared, and certainly incapable of actually solving problems.
Now that the president he supported -- George W. Bush -- is running the show, however, Limbaugh's anti-government bent has faded quickly and quietly to the background. After all, being anti-government seems practically anti-Republican these days, considering the GOP owns all three branches of government and virtually controls the Fourth Estate as well.
Mind you, in Limbaughland, there are still "evil" people in government -- but they're all liberals. Indeed, the demonization of all things liberal has always been a component of Limbaugh's routine. But now it has become his focus. And it is in that shift, taking place in a context of rising extremism, that he has become openly divisive, and truly dangerous.
Limbaugh has in recent months been one of the national leaders in the right-wing campaign to characterize opposition to President Bush's questionable policies as "anti-American," a campaign that is closely associated with broader conservative attacks on the underlying ideals of multiculturalism. But Limbaugh has taken the rhetoric another step by associating liberals with Nazis and other fascist regimes.
Consider, for instance, this essay, which appeared on Limbaugh's Web site on April 17, 2003:Little Dick Promises Fascism If ElectedCongressman Dick Gephardt (D-MO), a Democratic presidential candidate, wants to repeal President Bush's income tax cuts under the guise of helping employers provide health insurance to workers. Yes, if employers agree to pay 60% to 65% of health care costs, Big Brother will steal some money out of those employees' paychecks and give it to the company. Dickonomics sees the government funding and controlling private businesses!That's fascism -- a term thrown around by people who don't have the intellectual chops to defend their ideas, but Gephardt's plan has features of that discredited ideology. Merriam-Webster: "Fas·cism: A political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition." [Italics added.]
This is a classic case of Newspeak -- diminishing the range of thought (it's telling that Limbaugh originally filed this under "Making the Complex Understandable") by nullifying the meaning of words. Democracy, according to Limbaugh, is fascism.
In fact, even as he ironically sneers at "people who don't have the intellectual chops to defend their ideas," he resorts to the notoriously inadequate dictionary definition of fascism in order to stand the meaning of the word on its head.
Observe how Limbaugh abuses the definition he gives here by only emphasizing a couple of its aspects (centralized government and economic regimentation -- neither of which are actually applicable here, no more so than they would be to a hundred thousand other government programs) and utterly ignoring those aspects of it that clearly are not present in Gephardt's proposal (exalting nation and often race above the individual, forcible suppression of the opposition -- traits which, in fact, are often present in Limbaugh's own diatribes).
Any serious consideration of Limbaugh's accusations of incipient fascism on the part of Gephardt will recognize that at the core of his argument is the suggestion that the current American bureaucracy itself, and indeed the bulk of Western civilization, particularly in its ability to tax and redistribute income, is "fascist" -- a claim that any reasonable person can see as plainly false.
Moreover, Limbaugh's "intellectual chops" notwithstanding, the many shortcomings of the ridiculously vague Merriam-Webster definition become self-evident when contrasted with a scholarly approach, as we shall see. Utterly lacking from the definitions are the definitive aspects of fascism as described by serious political scholars: its populism, particularly its claim to represent the "true character" of the respective national identities among which it arises; and its mythic core of national rebirth -- not to mention its corporatist component, its anti-liberalism, its glorification of violence and its contempt for weakness.
There is nothing in Gephardt's plan that even remotely suggests such behavior -- it is in fact clearly far removed from genuine fascism, especially if it were to live up to Limbaugh's rather absurd claims that it would ultimately lead to a wholesale government takeover of corporations, which is in any event a communist and not a fascist behavior (fascism, as we will see, has a clear component of open corporatism).
Rather, if we were to look for these well-established earmarks of fascism, we would find them in Limbaugh's essay and numerous other of his outpourings. Limbaugh, indeed, constantly claims to be the voice of "real Americans" and regularly calls for a rebirth of the "American spirit" to be achieved by the destruction of all things liberal.
In any event, this is not the first time Limbaugh has misused the term. One of his most famous epithets is "feminazi," which juxtaposes liberal feminism with Nazism. He has referred at various times to "liberal compassion fascists," and on other occasions has explained to his national audience that Nazis in fact were "socialists." This is, of course, the kind of twisting of terminology that is the essence of Newspeak.
Limbaugh's rhetoric, in fact, is almost a model of how Newspeak works: It renders language meaningless by positing a meaning of a word that is in fact its near or precise opposite.
Conservatives, led by Limbaugh's blazing example, in the past decade have become masters of Newspeak, the Orwellian twisting of language that not only propagandizes but actually distorts reality. As a character in 1984 puts it:"You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right … But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party."
Another character explains its long-term purpose:"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it."
Newspeak permeates the political environment right now. The core agenda of the Bush administration, mouthed by a hundred talking heads on cable TV, is now neatly summed up by two of the core truisms of Newspeak:"War is peace." [The purpose of the Iraq war, and the War on Terror generally, is to ensure peace and security at home, we are told.]"Ignorance is strength." [Consider the way Bush's fumbled syntax and express anti-intellectualism is integral to his crafted image of homespun integrity.]
Newspeak serves two functions:1) It deflates the opposition by nullifying its defining issues, and throws the nominal logic of the public debate into disarray.2) It provides rhetorical and ontological cover for its speakers' own activities and agenda.
Consider, for instance, Limbaugh's evidently groundless claims that Gephardt's proposal calls for forcible oppression of the opposition. Contrast that with one of the more recent on-air outbursts by Limbaugh:"Tim Robbins, who thinks he can say any thing at any time . . . I have a question: How is it that Tim Robbins is still walking free? How in the world is this guy still able to go to the National Press Club and say whatever he wants to say?"1
By carefully observing the machinations of the current spate of Newspeak emanating from transmitters like Limbaugh, however, it's possible to get a clear view of the movement's underlying agenda. This is possible when the meaning of Limbaugh's obfuscations are placed in their psychological context, because they constitute a fairly clear case of projection.
Indeed, one of the lessons I've gleaned from carefully observing the behavior of the American right over the years is that the best indicator of its agenda can be found in the very things of which it accuses the left.
This is known as "projection." One of the first to observe this propensity on the right was Richard Hofstadter, whose 1964 work The Paranoid Style in American Politics remains an important contribution to the field of analyzing right-wing politics:The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid's interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone's will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through "front" groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist "crusades" openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.2
Self-proclaimed anti-authoritarians such as Limbaugh thus adopt the language and style of authoritarians themselves, and engage in Newspeak-laden propaganda whose sole purpose is to appeal to persons with totalist propensities. The anti-Gephardt essay is a classic example.
Remember how during the Florida fiasco the GOP and its many talking heads regularly accused Al Gore of attempting to steal the election through court fiat? Remember how such moral paragons as Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dan Burton and Bob Livingston (not to mention John Fund and Andrew Sullivan) roared in outrage over Bill Clinton's supposed amorality? The list could go on almost indefinitely.
When the right accuses liberals of "fascism," it almost always does so in an effort to obscure its own fascist proclivities -- and it reminds the rest of us just whose footsoldiers are in reality merrily goosestepping down the national garden path.
"Fascism" has come to be a nearly useless term in the past 30 years or so. In many respects, leftists are most responsible for this degradation; it became so common to lob the word at just about anyone conservative or corporatist in the 1960s and 1970s that its original meaning -- describing a very distinct political style, if not quite philosophy -- became utterly muddled, at least in the public lexicon.
A recent example of this was the report at Take Back the Media that Rush Limbaugh had characterized antiwar protesters as "fascists and anti-American." Indeed, it was this report that inspired me to write at Orcinus about Limbaugh and the real nature of fascism. But the report was wrong. (Take Back the Media, to its credit, quickly corrected its quote.)
Here's the actual quote:"It's beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything other than what they are: Anti-American, Anti-Capitalist Marxists and Communists."
Limbaugh was clearly smearing the antiwar dissenters, and that was outrageous enough. But he wasn't calling them fascists -- rather their ideological opposite.
It is clear that liberals are every bit as prone to confusing fascism with totalitarianism as are conservatives. The difference, perhaps, is that the latter often do so deliberately, as a way of obscuring the genuine fascism that sits at their elbows.
As "fascism" has been bandied about freely, it has come loosely to represent the broader concept of totalitarianism, which of course encompasses communism as well. Right-wing propagandists like Limbaugh clearly hope to leap into that breach of popular understanding to exploit his claim that those on the left, like Dick Gephardt or "feminazis," are "fascists." It's also clear as he denounces antiwar liberals as "anti-American" that he is depicting them as enemy sympathizers with the forces of "Islamofascism."
Most Americans have a perfectly clear idea of the basic tenets of communism (though in many cases it is fairly distorted), largely because it is an ideology based on a body of texts and revolving around specific ideas. In contrast, hardly anyone can explain what it is that makes fascism, mainly because all we really know about it is the regimes that arose under its banner. There are no extant texts, only a litany of dictatorships and atrocities. When we think of fascism, we think of Hitler and perhaps Mussolini, without even understanding what forces they rode to power.
At the same time, it's important that Americans of all stripes -- liberal or conservative -- have clear view of what fascism is, because it is not an extinct political force, and it is above all else innately anti-democratic and anti-American in spirit. This essay is in some regards a plea, particularly to those on the left who have used the term willy nilly to score shrill partisan political points, to cease abusing the word "fascism," learn what it means, and apply it only when it's appropriate. (I have absolutely no hopes of persuading those on the right, particularly since they are a large part of the problem.)
It has always seemed to me that Americans view Nazism almost as some kind of strange European virus that afflicted only the Germans, and only for a brief period -- this by way of rationalizing that It Couldn't Happen Here. But it also seems clear to me this is wrong; that the Germans were ordinary, ostensibly civilized people like the rest of us. And that what went wrong in them could someday go wrong in us too.
I described some of this in the Afterword of In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, reminiscing about a professor's midafternoon lecture:When he was a young man, he told us, he served in the U.S. Army as part of the occupation forces in Germany after World War II. He was put to work gathering information for the military tribunal preparing to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. His job was to spend time in the villages adjacent to one concentration camp and talk to the residents about what they knew.The villagers, he said, knew about the camp, and watched daily as thousands of prisoners would arrive by rail car, herded like cattle into the camps. And they knew that none ever left, even though the camp never could have held the vast numbers of prisoners who were brought in. They also knew that the smokestack of the camp's crematorium belched a near-steady stream of smoke and ash. Yet the villagers chose to remain ignorant about what went on inside the camp. No one inquired, because no one wanted to know."But every day," he said, "these people, in their neat Germanic way, would get out their feather dusters and go outside. And, never thinking about what it meant, they would sweep off the layer of ash that would settle on their windowsills overnight. Then they would return to their neat, clean lives and pretend not to notice what was happening next door."When the camps were liberated and their contents were revealed, they all expressed surprise and horror at what had gone on inside," he said. "But they all had ash in their feather dusters."3
That story neatly compresses the way fascism works: in a vacuum of denial.
The gradual mechanism by which this phenomenon gradually crept over Germany was vividly described in They Thought They Were Free, a book by Milton Mayer about "how and why 'decent men' became Nazis":What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.4
So if it could happen to the Germans, it could happen to us, particularly to the extent that we remain in denial about it. But how are we to tell if it is happening, since it seems to happen so gradually that the populace scarcely recognizes it?
It's worthwhile to begin by examining the historical record, because there, at least, we can get a reasonably clear picture of just what fascism really was and is.
In a historical sense, fascism is maybe best understood as an extreme reaction against socialism and communism; in its early years it was essentially defined as "extremist anti-communism." There were very few attempts to systematize the ideology of fascism, though some existed (see, e.g. Giovanni Gentile's 1932 text, The Philosophical Basis of Fascism). But its spirit was better expressed in an inchoate rant like Mein Kampf.
It was explicitly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and corporatist, and it endorsed violence as a chief means to its ends. It was also, obviously, authoritarian, but claiming that it was oriented toward "socialism" is just crudely ahistorical, if not outrageously revisionist. Socialists, let's not forget, were among the first people imprisoned and "liquidated" by the Nazi regime.
But fascism is more than just a reaction. It is a political force with a distinct set of characteristics.
One of the more popular recent essays on the subject was written by Umberto Eco, who is a cultural scholar, of course, though not what I would consider a genuine expert on fascism. Nonetheless, his piece, "Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt" is on the right track, and as good a place as any to start.5
Eco identifies a series of traits that sum up the essence of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," that is, the beast that has always been with us and will always be. Now, although this piece was written in 1995, let's see how many we can recognize today:
The cult of tradition.
[Who are the folks who beat their breasts (and ours) incessantly over the primacy of 'traditional Judaeo-Christian culture'?]
The rejection of modernism.
[Think 'feminazis.' Think attacks on the NEA. Think attacks on multiculturalism.]
[G.W. Bush's anti-intellectualism and illogical, skewed speech are positively celebrated by the right.]
Action for action's sake.
[Exactly why are we making war on Iraq, anyway?]
Disagreement is treason.
["Liberals are anti-American."]
Fear of difference.
[Again, think of the attacks on multiculturalism, as well as the attacks on Muslims and Islam generically.]
Appeal to a frustrated middle class.
[See the Red states -- you know, the ones who voted for Bush. The ones where Limbaugh is on the air incessantly.]
Obsession with a plot.
[Limbaugh and conservatives have been obsessed with various "plots" by liberals for the past decade -- see, e.g., the Clinton impeachment, and current claims of a "fifth column" among liberals.]
Humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies.
[Think Blue states vs. Red states.]
Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy.
[The very essence of the attacks led by talk-radio hosts against antiwar protesters.]
Life is eternal warfare.
[This perfectly describes the War on Terror.]
Contempt for the weak.
[Think both of conservatives' characterization of liberals as "weak spined," as well as the verbal attacks on Muslims and immigrants from the likes of Limbaugh and Michael Savage.]
Against 'rotten' parliamentary governments.
[Remember all those rants against 'big government'?]
Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak.
[Perhaps the most noticeable trait in the current environment. The destruction of meaning by creating "empty phrases" combining opposite ideas has, as we have seen, become a prominent strategy deployed by the conservative movement.]
Now, I know a quick reading -- the kind Limbaugh prefers, prone to miscomprehension and mischaracterization -- might suggest otherwise, but this demonstration isn't really an attempt to argue that Limbaugh is a fascist.
It is uncanny just how closely he and his conservative-movement cohorts fit the description provided by Umberto Eco's 14 points. But therein lies the problem: Eco's essay is useful, but not authoritative by any means, in no small part because the study of fascism isn't really within his field of academic expertise. And it has some flaws, not the least of which is that some (not all) of the traits he describes as endemic to fascism could be ascribed to other totalitarian philosophies as well, notably communism. The truth is, a deep conservative might fit Eco's description and still he might not be a fascist.
What this exercise reveals is not so much that Limbaugh is a fascist, but rather, that he is making a career out of transmitting the themes and memes upon which fascism feeds to a mainstream conservative audience. After all, in its developmental phase, fascism in many ways comprises relatively mundane ideas and behaviors, which isolated seem unremarkable enough, but which in combination are both potent and lethal.
In turning to history for guidance, it's important not to confuse fascism as a movement with fascism as a power. If we think that we can only identify the rise of fascism by the arrival of its mature form -- the goosestepping brownshirts, the full-fledged use of violence and intimidation tactics, the mass rallies -- then it will be far too late. Fascism sprang up in fact as a much more atomized phenomenon, arising at first mostly in rural areas and then spreading to the cities; and if we are to look at those origins, then it's clear that similar movements can already be seen to exist in America.
Fascism as we will see springs from very ancient sources; its antecedents have appeared throughout history. It adapts to changing conditions. As the French specialist on the extreme right Pierre-André Taguieff puts it:Neither "fascism" nor "racism" will do us the favour of returning in such a way that we can recognise them easily. If vigilance was only a game of recognising something already well-known, then it would only be a question of remembering. Vigilance would be reduced to a social game using reminiscence and identification by recognition, a consoling illusion of an immobile history peopled with events which accord with our expectations or our fears.6
What's necessary for assessing the genuine potential for fascism in America is identifying the core components of fascism itself: the ancient wellsprings from which it came and which remain with us today. Then we need to see how we are doing in keeping those forces in check.
August 3, 2013 | Eric Margolis
In the late 1980's, an old friend of mine based in Moscow was calling her husband in the USA late one night. She said it was a "typical dumb husband/wife call," mostly about a broken garage door.
Around midnight, a gruff voice broke into the call. "This is your KGB listener. This is the most boring, stupid call I've ever listened to. Shut up and go to bed!"
Ah, those innocent Cold War days. Today, Big Brother listens to your calls, reads your email, and follows your internet searches on silent cat's feet.
China's Taoists warned, "you become what you hate." They are right: the September 2001 attacks on the US, as John Le Carré wrote, producing a period of temporary psychosis. America was knocked back to the ugly days of Sen. McCarthy's Red Scare of the 1950's. The big difference was that today the bogeymen of "terrorists" have replaced menacing Marxists. And today, terrorists were everywhere.
When I enlisted in the US Army during the Vietnam War, we were taught that it was our duty as American soldiers to report all war crimes and violations of the Geneva Convention, and to refuse to obey unlawful orders from superiors as established at post WWII Nuremburg trials At the time, I was proud to serve in America's armed forces.
Today, the military trial of document leaker PFC Bradley Manning has echoes of the Soviet era: a show trial in which a lonely individual is slowly crushed by the wheels of so-called military justice, an oxymoron.
The dramatic revelations of fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden brings back sharp memories of Soviet-era dissidents, jailed, banished, locked in foul psychiatric hospitals for daring to speak the truth.
In my day, those seeking justice and freedom used to defect from the East Bloc to the United States and Britain. Now, ironically, we see a major defector, Ed Snowden, fleeing to Russia.
While the corporate-owned US news networks sugarcoat or obscure the NSA and Afghanistan War scandals, it's left to Russian TV (RT) to tell Americans the facts. Who would have thought?
We journalists used to mock Pravda and Trud as party mouthpieces. Today, it's the party line all the time from the big US networks, online news, and newspapers.
The Republican far right calls Snowden and Manning traitors; some demand the death penalty. Snowden's lawyers warn he faces torture and possibly execution if he returns home; Manning has already had a long term in solitary confinement, which is itself a form of psychological torture.
We recall the horrific case of a Chicago gang member Jose Padilla during 9/11 hysteria. In an order signed by President George W. Bush, Padilla was accused on the flimsiest grounds of being an enemy combatant and stripped of all legal rights. He was held for over three years in solitary, tortured, sleep and sensory deprived, and injected with psychotropic drugs. Padilla was broken physically and mentally, then sent to prison for 17 years.
Such a gruesome fate could await Manning and Snowden.
I don't know if PFC Manning took his charges of war crimes and other illegalities up the chain of command, the proper course for soldiers. He would, of course, have gotten nowhere – just look at the crimes committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Going out of the command structure insured that Manning would have faced serious charges. Releasing a sea of details about US foreign policy inevitably courted severe punishment.
But as far as we know, Manning's revelations didn't harm America, it only embarrassed Washington by making it look bullying, two-faced and utterly cynical. Bureaucrats hate embarrassment much more than spying.
Snowden followed candidate Barack Obama's pre-election call on whistleblowers to reveal waste and wrongdoing. America's intelligence agencies have clearly overstepped their bounds and likely violated the law. A majority of Americans don't buy the claim they were spied on to protect the nation from vague terrorist threats.
Snowdon and Manning were, in my view, patriotic Americans warning their nation that its ruling elite, obsessed with power and global hegemony, had veered way off course and were violating the US Constitution. However foolhardy, they acted with courage and honor.solum temptare possumus August 8, 2013 at 11:51 pmCicero, August 5, 2013 at 2:55 pm
While I agree with all that has been said by Mr Margolis and my fellow responders, I seek to see connections through the filter of written history; perhaps our best teacher of current conditions.
I did not have to look to far into the past for one of the greatest wordsmith and essayist, the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson.
Quote: "Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence".
What has happened in America then and recently can be seen in ancient Rome; also well documented.
One can only hope that a literate tech savvy youth can focus through the myriad distractions, before it is to late, and take to heart this message from the same orator:
Quote: "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive"
Further evidence of this corruption is in a new book I recently purchased. I heard about it on the show Fareed Zakaria GPS. (Global Public Square). He has a segment called "My Take", and mentioned last sunday this book: "THIS TOWN Two parties and a Funeral In America's Gilded Capital" by Mark Leibovich. What struck me was a few of the points Mr Zakaria mentioned:
1. Representatives and Senators spend 3 out of 7 days each week Fundraising.
2. 42% of Representatives and 50% of Senators become Lobbyists after their time in Congress.
3. Why Washington works well for Lobbyists and not so well for US Citizens.
To all beliefs, religious or not, I respond; God or Reason Save the United States of America.
China`s Taoists warned, "you become what you hate." The present powers in the US are surely proving that to be true. Because of the cold war rhetoric and propaganda, we were all lead to believe, that anything and everything Russian, or rather Soviet, was backward, archaic and inherently evil. And while some of it may have a foundation in truth, a lot of it, as we learned later, was sheer propaganda to get the peoples of the west to hate intensely enough, that they would be willing to lay down their lives in defense of what they were made to believe was the 'God-given' duty as citizens of what is known as the so-called 'free world'. Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev soon proved that picture to be warped and untrue, when they met Ronnie and Nancy so many years ago. Raisa seemed so self-assured, while Nancy seemed to trip over her astrological beliefs.
Manning and Snowden are discovering first hand, what that definition of freedom really is. No more than just another lie, like the official story of 9/11 and the causes and justifications for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After that Vietnam fiasco, which had the same earmarks, we ought to have known better than to fall for it again.
John Le Carré was right-on with his assessment of America and may I add a lot of other countries as well about that 'temporary' psychosis, except that the term temporary must be seen here as relative. The same thing applies to the McCarty induced psychosis of the fifties. In fact it would be hard to differentiate between psychosis here and the religiously induced fear by means of the propaganda machine, that seems to get the best oiling and maintenance of all the government machinery. The loss and shame of the Vietnam war seems to have been so traumatic, that it made that psychosis an almost permanent characteristic, judging by what the MSM allows us to detect between the lines of their propaganda lies.
"The dramatic revelations of fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden brings back sharp memories of Soviet-era dissidents, jailed, banished, locked in foul psychiatric hospitals for daring to speak the truth." I read here. But what are the conditions, that Bradley Manning has endured, still endures and like will endure for a long time yet, for doing, what the soldiers were taught, when they went to Vietnam?
Because of the mention of José Padilla here, I consulted wikipaedia on this topic and there was a description of what happened to this man. It is a horror story, that would have been perfect fodder against Stalin`s regime, which we are lead to believe, was the worst the world ever experienced. Of course the US has its own Stalin in GWB, complete with Rumsfeld playing the role of Molotov and the CIA amply fills the shoes of the old KGB.
Military justice sure is an oxymoron and may I add, the entire present US justice system as well, if we properly define 'justice'.
August 2, 2013 | naked capitalism
I can relate to your post, have come to similar conclusions and have made similar decisions. Do not mean to troll but what your are describing reminds me of what Chris Hedges talks about in American Faschists and Empire of Illusion. I think that complexity and logocide are close relatives.
" … dominions and their wealthy rightwing sponsors speak in terms and phrases that are familiar in comforting the most americans but they no longer use words to mean what they meant in the past. They engage in a slow process of logocide, the killing of words. The old definition of words are replaced by new ones. Codewords of the old belief system are deconstructed and assigned diametrically opposed meanings. Words such as truth, wisdom, death, liberty, life and love, no longer mean what they mean in the secular world … justice under this process of logocide is perverted to carry our injustice and becomes a mirage of law and order … logocide slowly and stealthfully removes wholes segments of society from moral map … as J.Goebels wrote: the best propaganda is that which as it were works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative … Paxton argues that the best way to understand authentic fascist movements, which he says exist in all societies, including democracies, is to focus not on what they say but on how they act, for as he writes some of the ideas that underlie fascist movements remain unstated and implicit in fascist public language and many of them belong more into realm of visceral feelings than to the real of reasoned propositions. Fascism is a kind of colonization, reverend Davidson Lore noted, a simple definition of colonization is that it takes people's stories away and assigns them supportive roles in stories that empower others at their expense."
Thanks to all for their comments.
Thank you Android 16 for your comments on language. I regained my Irish citizenship a few years back after it was lost in my family for one generation. The Irish and many other peoples of the World lost their language, culture, customs due to colonization. Look at the poor Irish today, slaves to the TROIKA, having had less than one hundred years of independence and freedom. This is not theory; it is reality.
Have you read Klemperer's I Will Bear Witness, a diary of the Nazi years? I read it ten years ago and it shifted my brain. He was a trained philologist and understood the wider implications of language manipulation. Of course, they are now way ahead of the Nazis in technique and effect. Those Disney Imagineers and Mutations are hard at work. The good news in the book is that, the Great Third Reich only lasted a paltry 12 years. Pretty poor performance! Klemperer is much like us today, looking for some good news in a constant barrage of bad news and Propaganda. Some great humans have preceded us on this road.
YVES said: "And when outsiders get a dim perception of how things work and are properly incensed, the insiders get astonishingly angry and defensive (the vehemence of the response is proof that on some level they actually do know what they are doing is wrong but have built all sorts of denial mechanisms and narcissistic responses to protect themselves from that knowledge)."
It is a common phenomenon for a ponerogenic association or group to contain a particular ideology which always justifies its activities and furnishes motivational propaganda. Even a small-time gang of hoodlums has its own melodramatic ideology and pathological romanticism. Human nature demands that vile matters be haloed by an over-compensatory mystique in order to silence one's conscience and to deceive consciousness and critical faculties, whether one's own or those of others.
If such a ponerogenic union could be stripped of its ideology, nothing would remain except psychological and moral pathology, naked and unattractive.
–ANDREW M. LOBACZEWSKI, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes
YVES said: "The second veil is it's hard for non-bankers to believe that the conduct is as deeply, pervasively as bad as it is."
• The fact is, even normal people, who condemn this kind of union along with its ideologies, feel hurt and deprived of something constituting part of their own romanticism, their way of perceiving reality when a widely idealized group is exposed as little more than a gang of criminals… The job of effecting such a "strip-tease" may thus turn out to be much more difficult and dangerous than expected.
–ANDREW M. LOBACZEWSKI, Political Ponerology: A Science on the Nature of Evil Adjusted for Political Purposes
• Most rational and social justifications of unequal privilege are clearly afterthoughts. The facts are created by the disproportion of power which exists in a given social system. The justifications are usually dictated by the desire of men of power to hide the nakedness of their greed, and by the inclination of society itself to veil the brutal facts of human life from itself… [Individuals] therefore invent romantic and moral interpretations of the real facts, preferring to obscure rather than reveal the true character of their collective behavior. Sometimes they are as anxious to offer moral justifications for the brutalities from which they suffer as for those which they commit. The fact that the hypocrisy…expresses itself not only in terms of self-justification but in terms of moral justification of human behavior in general, symbolizes one of the tragedies of the human spirit.
–REINHOLD NIEBUHR, Moral Man and Immoral Society
Aug 1, 2013 | Zerohedge
Submitted by Michael Krieger via Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,
When we as a species use language to communicate and engage with one another, we have a certain understanding that certain words mean certain things. That is the entire purpose of language, effective communication between human beings that can be easily understood. As a result, we should be able to assume that when government bureaucrats utilize words that are commonplace within society, that these words represent specific commonly understood meanings. That would be a huge mistake.
Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman of the ACLU have compiled an excellent list of some commonplace words used by the NSA to mislead us into thinking they aren't doing the bad things that they are actually doing. Words such as "surveillance," "collect," and "relevant." From Slate:That definition of "collect" is completely and totally insane.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has been harshly criticized for having misled Congress earlier this year about the scope of the National Security Agency's surveillance activities. The criticism is entirely justified. An equally insidious threat to the integrity of our national debate, however, comes not from officials' outright lies but from the language they use to tell the truth. When it comes to discussing government surveillance, U.S. intelligence officials have been using a vocabulary of misdirection—a language that allows them to say one thing while meaning quite another.
Surveillance. Every time we pick up the phone, the NSA makes a note of whom we spoke to, when we spoke to him, and for how long—and it's been doing this for seven years. After the call-tracking program was exposed, few people thought twice about attaching the label "surveillance" to it. Government officials, though, have rejected the term, pointing out that this particular program doesn't involve the NSA actually listening to phone calls—just keeping track of them. Their crabbed definition of "surveillance" allows them to claim that the NSA isn't engaged in surveillance even when it quite plainly is.
Collect. If an intelligence official says that the NSA isn't "collecting" a certain kind of information, what has he actually said? Not very much, it turns out. One of the NSA's foundational documents states that "collection" occurs not when the government acquires information but when the government "selects" or "tasks" that information for "subsequent processing." Thus it becomes possible for the government to acquire great reams of information while denying that it is "collecting" anything at all.
Relevant. The NSA's call-tracking program is ostensibly based on the Patriot Act's Section 215, a provision that allows the government to compel businesses to disclose records that are "relevant" to authorized foreign intelligence investigations. The theory, it seems, is that everybody's phone records are relevant today because anybody's phone records might become relevant in the future. This stretches the concept of "relevance" far beyond the breaking point. Even the legislator who wrote Section 215 has rejected the government's theory. If "relevance" is given such a broad compass, what room is left for "irrelevance"?
It's no wonder, that "Big Brother" and the "Party" in George Orwell's 1984 emphasize language in order to exert mind control on the population of Oceania with tactics such as "doublespeak" and "Newspeak." After all, if we lose the ability to use language to effectively communicate with one another, what do we have left?
For the full lexicon of misleading NSA terms, click here.
Jesse's Café AméricainWhile I obviously can not agree with everything in this long documentary, Orwell Rolls In His Grave, I found the discussion and examples to be interesting.
"But the biggest clue that Sorkin's take on Greenwald was no accident came in the rest of that same Squawk Box appearance:"I feel like, A, we've screwed this up, even letting him get to Russia. B, clearly the Chinese hate us to even let him out of the country."...As a journalist, when you start speaking about political power in the first person plural, it's pretty much glue-factory time."
I would arrest him . . . and now I would almost arrest Glenn Greenwald, who's the journalist who seems to want to help him get to Ecuador."
Matt Taibbi, All Journalism Is Advocacy Journalism
"And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that."
John Dalberg Lord Acton
I have included a short video clip concerning the standard visual media set piece afterwards just for fun.
The problem is not that there is advocacy in journalism. There is always advocacy in journalism, even despite a striving for objectivity. Taibbi goes to some lengths to show this in the piece I quoted from above.
The problem is the concentration of ownership in a few powerful hands, and the accompanying diminishment of the exposure of all the facts and perspectives. Even deciding what is not covered becomes a form of censorship.
Like the deregulation of the financial industry, the concentration of the media in a relatively few corporate hands was a ongoing trend that took a great leap forward under the presidency of Bill Clinton, and was then continued and reinforced under George Bush and Barack Obama. It was the conscious undoing of reforms from past lessons learned.
It is the concentration of ownership of the corporate media that is at the heart of the problem of the decline of independent journalistic standards. That, and the culture of unprincipled expediency in the service of power and shameless greed.
We are not responsible, but are culpable to the extent we accept this decline in decency and justice, even by doing nothing as simple as passing on a leaflet, conveniently electronic these days. As Sophie Scholl once said, many years ago in Munich, a people deserve the government which they are willing to tolerate.
Category: careerism, corporate media, corporatism, financial media, kleptocracy
Posted at 11:44 AM
June 24, 2013 NYTimes.com
As a pure story, it's tough to beat the Snowden saga. Man of intrigue? Roger. Crusading reporter? Check. A powerful government in hot pursuit? Yessir. Unclear agendas by foreign countries? Most certainly.
And as Edward J. Snowden made his way across the globe with a disintegrating passport and newly emerged allies, Twitter was there, serving up a new kind of chase coverage, with breathless updates from hovering digital observers speculating about the fleeing leaker's next move. All day Sunday, it was like watching a spy movie unfold in pixels, except it was all very real and no one knows how it ends.
Almost lost in the international drama was a journalistic one in which Glenn Greenwald, the columnist from The Guardian, found himself in the gunsights on a Sunday morning talk show. The episode was part of a continuing story about the role of the press in conveying secrets to the public.
If you add up the pulling of news organization phone records (The Associated Press), the tracking of individual reporters (Fox News), and the effort by the current administration to go after sources (seven instances and counting in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media), suggesting that there is a war on the press is less hyperbole than simple math.
For the time being, it is us (the press) versus them (federal officials), which is part of the reason David Gregory ended up taking a lot of incoming fire for suggesting on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that Glenn Greenwald may have committed crimes, not journalism, when he published leaks by Mr. Snowden.
"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" he said in the interview.
Mr. Greenwald responded assertively.
"I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies," Mr. Greenwald responded.
"The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence — the idea that I've 'aided and abetted' him in any way."
Mr. Gregory may have thought he was just being provocative, but if you tease apart his inquiry, it suggests there might be something criminal in reporting out important information from a controversial source.
In using the term "aided and abetted," Mr. Gregory adopted the nomenclature of Representative Peter T. King, a Republican of New York who has argued that Mr. Greenwald should be arrested, lately on Fox News.
Writing in The Washington Post, Erik Wemple expressed deep skepticism about Mr. Gregory's assumptions.
"The entire question of Greenwald's 'aiding and abetting,' furthermore, collapses when considering what it would entail," he wrote. "Snowden was a contractor for the National Security Agency. Over his years of work in intelligence, he developed an exquisite understanding of the government's eavesdropping activities. Plus, he had passcodes and access privileges that came with his position."
Mr. Gregory's position on the show was that as a journalist raising questions he was "not actually embracing any particular point of view."
"There's a question about his role in this," he said, referring to Mr. Greenwald. "The Guardian's role in all of this. It is actually part of the debate; rather than going after the questioner, he could take on the issues. And he had an opportunity to do that here on 'Meet the Press.' "
The press is frequently accused of giving itself a pass, but the present moment would seem like a good time for a bit of solidarity. The current administration's desire for control of information is not a new phenomenon, but at this juncture, there is a clear need for a countervailing force in favor of openness.
There will be, as Ben Smith pointed out on BuzzFeed, an attempt to depict the sources of information as rogues and traitors, a process that will accelerate now that WikiLeaks has begun assisting Mr. Snowden. "Snowden is what used to be known as a source," Mr. Smith wrote. "And reporters don't, and shouldn't, spend too much time thinking about the moral status of their sources."
Politicians would like to conflate the actions of reporters and their sources, but the law draws a very clear and bright line between the two in an effort to protect speech and enable transparency. Mr. Greenwald may have a point of view and his approach to journalism is through the prism of activism, but he functioned as a journalist and deserves the protections that go with the job.
Everyone I know has stopped watching the TV news. To try to watch even a half hour of CNN, is a futile exercise. The heads are making noise, but they aren't really saying anything. I decided to bite the bullet and keep track of just what information was actually produced for public consumption during an hour broadcast this morning.
For starters, I found that during that hour, 24 minutes is devoted to commercials. The first 12 minutes dealt with the snowstorm, (like it's never snowed in New York before, give me a break), and Johnny Carson dying. Iraq got three minutes, which included 10 seconds on some Homeland Security mucky-muck resigning, then three minutes on financial tips if you are thinking of taking a sabbatical from work to go lie on a beach somewhere (like that applies to a lot of people). Total: 18 minutes.
The second half hour gave us one minute on Iraq, four minutes on the stupid snow storm, two and a half minutes on Rummy's secret Pentagon unit, two minutes on the UN commemoration of Auschwitz, one and a half minutes on the stock market and gas prices, one minute of national news, four minutes on Johnny Carson, and two minutes on sports. Total: 18 minutes.
Do I feel like I have begun my day as an informed citizen? Well yes. But only because I watched Democracy Now on the Free Speech TV channel after the wasted hour with CNN. Johnny only got five seconds on this hour broadcast. (You can watch it, by the way, on Link TV channel 9410, DISH TV channel 9415, and DirecTV channel 375; or listen on a Pacifica affiliate station or at DemocracyNow.org.)
And after that I made the rounds of my favorite progressive internet news sites.
The sad, sad news is that there isn't any news on mainstream TV any longer. It's no wonder we had a pathetically uninformed electorate who saw no real problem with voting for the friendly buckaroo who rescued them from 9/11. What can we do about it, though?
Now that Michael Powell has resigned, we need to pressure the US Congress, all of those next-to-worthless bastards, to see that the next FCC chairman who gets appointed won't further erode the state of the media.
And even more important, we need to scream at them to keep internet access out of the clutches of the big media conglomerates that have destroyed the mainstream media. Because that is what's coming next.
And then they will begin to dictate what we may have access to on the internet, and our last real avenue of communication, our last weapon against a fascist, totalitarian government will have slipped from our grasp.
And while we still have time, we need to push this same Congress to provide money for internet access in all poor communities, as well as access to computers for these people
--because if we can get them informed, they are our political base that will help us get rid of these fascist bastards in Washington and elsewhere in the nation, where they've crept in like vermin in the dark of night.
It's real easy to nag, nag, nag these "public servants", and they just love to hear from us. Their phone numbers and e-mails can be found by going to www.firstgov.gov/Contact.shtml. And you don't even need to know their names.
And if you have time, you are entitled to contact every last one of them, not just the Reps and Senators from your state. Then start on your state legislators.
You have time. After all, you're not watching television news anymore.
May 9, 2013 | Jesse's Café Américain
Chris Hedges - The State of Journalism University of Western Ontario - YouTube
On March 13, 2013, the Faculty of Information and Media Studies Undergraduate Students' Council (FIMSSC) at The University of Western Ontario proudly presented Chris Hedges and his talk on the state of journalism and his book "Empire of Illusion", the second event in the FIMS Undergraduate Speaker Series, sponsored in part by the FIMS Undergraduate Student Fund.
Chris Hedges is an American journalist specializing in American politics and society. Hedges is also known as the best-selling author of several books including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002)—a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction—Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), Death of the Liberal Class (2010) and his most recent New York Times best seller, written with the cartoonist Joe Sacco, "Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt" (2012).
Chris Hedges is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute in New York City. He spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than fifty countries, and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News, and The New York Times, where he was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years (1990--2005).
In 2002, Hedges was part of the team of reporters at The New York Times awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the paper's coverage of global terrorism. He also received in 2002 the Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and The University of Toronto. He writes a weekly column on Mondays for Truthdig and authored what The New York Times described as "a call to arms" for the first issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, the newspaper giving voice to the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zuccotti Park, New York City.
In this talk, Hedges explores the relationship between dominant media institutions and recent socioeconomic trends by discussing some of his experiences as journalist for The New York Times, as well as some of the topics covered in his book, Empire of Illusion.
Special thanks to the film crew for making this video possible: Tyler Benning, Cody McFarland, and Nicole Landsiedel.
Most bullshit is simply to fill space, written by word processor, read by nobody, this material is generally innocuous. The worst abuses of the language now come from business people and management gurus. If bullshit tells you nothing else, it tells you something about the organisation that excretes it.
When George Orwell wrote his magisterial essay on Politics and the English Language in 1946, public bullshit was political bullshit. There is still a lot of that about. Election campaigns in Britain, constitutional arguments in Europe, and global summits in Scotland have produced political bullshit in quantity.
But the worst abuses of the language now come from business people and management gurus. In the last year, books by the Australian writer, Don Watson, the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt's, and my colleague Lucy Kellaway have attempted, in very different ways, to dissect this phenomenon.
Lies and spin communicate, but what they communicate is false. The defining characteristic of bullshit is that it does not attempt to communicate at all. Bullshit has the vocabulary and syntax of ordinary language, but not the meaning. The metaphor is not apt. What we describe as bullshit is more like candy floss – when you bite into it, there is nothing there.
The symptoms of bullshit are familiar. The repetition of stock phrases which can be parroted without thought – change drivers, organisational transformation. Words are given meanings different from their ordinary sense – government spending is called investment. Bullshit creates new words – empowerment, creovation™ – but these do not define original ideas, but describe concepts too nebulous to be expressed by terms with known meaning. Bullshit is characterised by prolixity – "serving customers better" becomes "striving for continuous improvement in the customer relationship management space".
Why do people talk or write when they have nothing to say? Sometimes there are good reasons. When the Queen pays a royal visit, her remarks tell people nothing other than that she is present, but that purpose is important. Some of what senior executives do has this symbolic role. Such speeches are properly short, and banalities suffice.
These representative occasions are sometimes used to good effect, by orators who connect with the emotions of their audiences. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address is still inspirational, and Ken Livingstone's words on the London bombings last week showed some of the same gift for language. But people who lack poetic skill are wise to stick to tested clichés.
So most bullshit is simply to fill space. Sometimes people do not want to speak but are required to. The growing culture of audit and accountability has stimulated such obligatory communication – read any corporate risk assessment or statement of auditors' responsibilities. Written by word processor, read by nobody, this material is generally innocuous.
But the purpose of bullshit is often deceptive. The squirming politician, forbidden to lie but unable to tell the truth, must bullshit. And so must Martin Lukes. He cannot describe what he and co-colleagues are doing because they are not doing anything: their time is spent in office politics and in diverting the resources of the company to their own interests. The popularity of the joke reveals that most employees of large organisations recognise some reality in this account. Less venally, a senior executive is unwilling to talk substantively about corporate strategy but too vain to remain silent. And so he rambles on, repeating long words and exhausted phrases.
'Why don't they get up and walk out?' asked a distinguished academic, sitting next to me as we waited our turn to speak at a corporate event: layer of bullshit was piled on accumulated layer. They didn't get up and walk out partly because the conventions of the corporate world differ from those of universities. But not all the audience had noticed that the words they heard meant nothing. If you are asked to report on implementation milestones towards key performance indicators, you are obliged to reply in the same language. Before long you speak this way yourself.
Proper academic training, which emphasises substance over form, is an antidote, and many universities still provide it: business schools, where both faculty and students must disguise how little they know, sometimes do the opposite. The most powerful enemy of bullshit is ridicule, and the most powerful ally of bullshit is the corporate conformity that makes such ridicule impossible. The more authoritarian the culture, the more bullshit. If bullshit tells you nothing else, it tells you something about the organisation that excretes it.
- Lucy Kellaway: Martin Lukes: Who Moved My Blackberry?
- Don Watson: Gobbledygook
- Harry G. Frankfurt: On Bullshit
Almost thirty years ago, cultural critic Neil Postman argued in Amusing Ourselves to Death that television's gradual replacement of the printing press has created a dumbed-down culture driven by mindless entertainment. In this context, Postman claimed that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World correctly foresaw our dystopian future, as opposed to George Orwell's 1984.
Contrary to Postman's critique, however, the principles of Newspeak and doublethink dominate modern political discourse. Their widespread use is a testament to Orwell's profound insight into how language can be manipulated to restrict human thought.
WAR IS PEACE
Formulating the Language of Perpetual War – From AUMF to "Associates of Associates."
The semantic deception began shortly after September 11, 2001. "Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda," Bush said in his State of the Union address, "but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated (emphasis added)."
The defining feature of this rhetoric is that it declares war on a particular method of violence used by disaffected states or groups. In fact, the phrase "war on terror" functions as what semiotics calls a floating signifier, a term devoid of any real meaning and thus open to any interpretation.
Terrorism has no shape, mass, or boundary; it is an abstraction, a tactic of asymmetrical warfare used to achieve political goals. Imagine if Franklin D. Roosevelt had declared "war on surprise attacks" in the wake Pearl Harbor, or if Lyndon Johnson had vowed to defeat guerilla warfare in Vietnam. This linguistic construct, therefore, ensures an open-ended conflict with no conceivable end.
Unperturbed by this paradox, British Prime Minister Tony Blair dutifully reiterated that, "the fact is we are at war with terrorism." But the bombing sorties over Afghanistan had barely begun when the label morphed into "The Long War," and then the "decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation." And now, the targeted killings program has been "extended to militant groups" with no connection to September 11, 2001 – that is, "associates of associates." Removing the requirement for any linkage to al-Qaeda gives the government unfettered discretion to assassinate anyone without due process of law.
This phraseology makes it impossible to distinguish the dialectical concepts of war and peace. It makes peace synonymous with a state of warfare. Peace is defined in terms of a generational commitment to war and, in turn, war is framed as a necessity to keep the peace. In other words, War is Peace.
This is the lexicon of perpetual war, the vocabulary of a conflict that is never meant to end. "You can't end the war," as one official admits to the Washington Post, "if you keep adding people to the enemy who are not actually part of the original enemy."
Aggression is Self-Defense –Waging Full Scale War to Prevent War.
Operation Iraqi Freedom represented phase two in a linguistic framework meant to fuse two diametrically opposite concepts in the public mind: preemption and prevention.
The purpose of preemptive war is to thwart or neutralize an imminent attack – one that is "instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation" – without absorbing the first blow. Conversely, preventive war is pure aggression – it is not tied to any notion of imminence and is primarily directed at securing some strategic advantage. Thus, the dimension of time is the primary difference between the former and the latter.
The Bush Doctrine blurred the lines between preventive and preemptive wars. It represented a seismic shift in national security strategy from one dominated by the Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment, to one that now enshrined preventive war as a permanent feature of US policy. During his 2002 commencement speech at West Point, Bush stated:
"If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long…Yet the war on terror will not be won on the defensive. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge…" (emphasis added)."
Furthermore, the 2006 US National Security Strategy Paper states that "If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack" (emphasis added). In true Newspeak fashion, such a conception of "preemptive action" inverts the traditional model of self-defense under customary international law by rendering imminence completely irrelevant. In doing so, it strips self-defense of any practical meaning. It conflates preventive war with preemptive war; it packages aggression as self-defense.
But as Cheney's one-percent doctrine later revealed, the threat need not even be likely, let alone imminent, for self-defense (read aggression) to apply. According to this logic, even a one percent chance of an event occurring is sufficient to treat it as a certainty. "It's not about our analysis," Cheney reportedly said, "…It's about our response (emphasis added)." Put simply, the likelihood of an event occurring is not a necessary prerequisite to wage war. This embeds the supreme international crime of aggressive war in the fabric of national security policy. Aggression is self-defense, Winston.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
The Obama Administration gave the War on Terror a facelift by rebranding it "Overseas Contingency Operations." But the sanitizing nomenclature has done little to halt the institutionalization of the apparatus of tyranny– from Kill Lists to Disposition Matrices to Drone Playbooks to indefinite detentions to persecuting whistleblowers to pervasive domestic surveillance. These developments are strikingly at odds with the post-9/11 metanarrative that frames this conflict as a clash between the forces of freedom and despotism. As Bush phrased it:
"Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this Chamber, a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other."
From this point onward, spreading 'freedom and democracy' abroad became the rallying point for a nation enraptured by its new messianic role. But it soon became apparent that freedom at home cannot coexist with hyper-militarism abroad.
Accusation Is Guilt – Killing You for Your Own Safety.
What could be more destructive to the cherished freedoms that make America a "shining city on a hill" than giving a "high level official" the power to kill Americans on US soil without any due process, accountability or transparency? What could be more Orwellian than asserting such dictatorial authority, which has always been the hallmark of totalitarian states, in the name of protecting the public's safety? The cost of war is not measured solely in terms of blood and treasure. War also corrodes human morality to a point where even the most inhumane acts become perfectly acceptable. In fact, summary executions without due process and the right to a fair trial served as one of the justifications for removing Saddam Hussein's regime.
Not only does the recent Department of Justice White Paper resoundingly affirm this power grab, it also destroys the foundation of Anglo-American jurisprudence by nullifying the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty.' It eviscerates the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits any deprivation of "life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." It obliterates the protections afforded by the Sixth Amendment, including the "right to a speedy and public trial," by asserting that government allegations alone, based on secret evidence, are sufficient to establish guilt. Accusation is guilt, Winston. As Glenn Greenwald cogently observes:
"But of course, when this memo refers to "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida", what it actually means is this: someone whom the President – in total secrecy and with no due process – has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US.
This is the crucial point: the memo isn't justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that (emphasis in original)."
Rarely do apologists for the normalization of extra-judicial murder realize that this represents a permanent erosion of core liberties, an ever-lasting debasement of the Bill of Rights. "We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it," Orwell said. "Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power." Secret assassinations are here to stay.
The Great Shift Inward — From Enemy Combatants to Homegrown Terrorists.
Under international law, captured enemy soldiers are considered Prisoners of War (POWs), and thus shielded by the Geneva Conventions and the jus cogens prohibition against torture. Furthermore, terrorism was traditionally treated as a federal criminal offense before 9/11. Accordingly, those accused of terrorism could still invoke the protections of the Bill of Rights, including the right to counsel, right to a jury trial, right to confront one's accusers, right against self-incrimination and conviction based on guilt proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
As the 2002 Padilla Case demonstrated, however, the enemy combatant doctrine creates a category of detainees that are neither POWs nor terrorists. As such, they are beyond the reach of both the Bill of Rights and Geneva Conventions. This undefined label essentially circumvents the safeguards of the legal system and allows the state to treat the accused like a medieval King would a serf. It sets the groundwork for a parallel gulag system in the United States operating on the model of indefinite detention without charge or trial, no access to a lawyer, and confessions obtained through torture.
And then came Attorney General Holder's recent premonition about a new threat: the "homegrown terrorist." Speaking to ABC news, Holder's statement signals a decisive shift in the script governing the ongoing campaign:
"It's a very serious threat. I think what it says is that the scope, our scope, has to be broadened. We can't think that it's just a bunch of people in caves in some part of the world. We have to be concerned about the homeland to the same extent that we are worried about the threat coming from overseas" (emphasis added).
The implications of this statement are staggering, for it turns the United States into the new "battlefield." Systems of tyranny perfected abroad are always turned inward. It only took a decade for the same tactics of warfare that were previously restricted to foreign countries to now being applied domestically.
Responding to Senator Rand Paul's question whether the President can authorize drone strikes on US citizens on domestic soil, Holder revealingly states that "It is possible…to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States." Even though the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 generally prohibits military involvement in domestic law enforcement, notice how Holder sees no problem with the military, not police, using lethal force against Americans on US soil.
Furthermore, when combined with the DOJ White Paper's assertion that drone assassinations do "not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future," it becomes frighteningly clear that an anonymous "high level official" can deploy these "faceless ambassadors of death" to strike you dead anytime, even absent any imminent or likely threat. This gives government the power of God. It repudiates every principle of liberty this constitutional republic was founded upon.
This is no exaggeration, as Holder's follow-up response to Senator Paul clarifies: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil? The answer to that question is no (emphasis added)." As any lawyer can attest, Holder's heavily qualified statement creates more ambiguity.
Note the following points: (1) Holder is not saying that the President cannot kill an American on US soil. The phrasing of his question is much narrower, which can arguably be interpreted as allowing the President to kill without using "weaponized drones;" (2) most important of all, his statement implies that the President does have the authority to kill Americans "engaged in combat."
Hence, the issue of how "combat" is defined carries great importance. In this regard, William Grigg brilliantly points out that al-Awlaki's assassination sets a precedent that stretches the interpretation of "combat" to a point where there are few, if any, restraints on the Presidents power to kill:
"Combat" can consist of expressing support for Muslims mounting armed resistance against U.S. military aggression, which was the supposed crime committed by Anwar al-Awlaki, or sharing the surname and DNA of a known enemy of the state, which was the offense committed by Awlaki's 16-year-old son, Abdel. Under the rules of engagement used by the Obama Regime in Pakistan, Yemen, and Afghanistan, any "military-age" male found within a targeted "kill zone" is likewise designated a "combatant," albeit usually after the fact."
More than half a century ago Orwell had warned us that the scourge of war eventually turns inward. "The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word "war", therefore, has become misleading" (emphasis added). Stated differently, war becomes a buzzword for concealing a rather insidious internal dynamic, one that treats those who oppose the status quo – the intrepid whistleblower, the outspoken journalist, the vocal activist – as a legitimate target for persecution.
Dissent Is Treason.
It is precisely the ability to express unpopular opinions and the autonomy to diverge from convention without fear of persecution that makes any society free. As Edward R. Murrow reminded us during the McCarthy era, dissent should never be confused with disloyalty because "we are not descended from fearful men […] who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular." That same principle holds true today, regardless of the nature of the claimed emergency.
Bradley Manning was caged like an animal under insanity inducing conditions for more than two and a half yearswithout trial. Manning's treatment is an epiphenomenon of the current administration's unprecedented war against whistleblowers, which makes an example of any lowly prole who dare expose corruption at the highest levels of the Inner Party. John Kiriakou rots in prison for the "crime" of informing the people about the CIA's illegal waterboarding, whereas John Brennan ascends to the heights of power for endorsing torture and assassinations. The operative effect of such incidents is to create a culture of intimidation and silence by making it a "thoughtcrime" to deviate from the official version of events.
Investigative journalist Chris Hedges points out that the NDAA (the Homeland Battlefield Bill) "permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who 'substantially support'—an undefined legal term—al-Qaida, the Taliban or 'associated forces,' again a term that is legally undefined." This represents a clear step toward the criminalization of activities that were formerly protected under the First Amendment. It equates any meaningful dissent with treason.
As if this weren't bad enough, some government employees are told to view "protests" as a form of "low-level terrorism," and consider "Fury at the West for reasons ranging from personal problems to global policies of the U.S." as a potential indicator of terrorist activity.
Recall that the PATRIOT Act was also billed a necessary counterterrorism tool. Even though it vastly expanded the state's investigative power without any attendant checks and balances, Congress was given no time to read it due to the claimed exigency of the circumstances. Almost a decade later, however, its application has been expanded to ordinary, non-terrorism cases like drug dealing and child pornography.
Understanding how this process works is vital, for tyranny always treads a familiar path: first it clamors for unfettered authority to resolve some overriding problem; then it consolidates that power; next it gradually expands its vocabulary and application; finally, it turns around and uses that power to persecute everyone. Indeed, those who wield unrestrained power will inevitably abuse it.
Big Brother Is Watching You – Argus, TrapWire, Stingray, EARS and Total Information Awareness.
Reporting on DARPA's most recent project called Effective Affordable Reusable Speech-to-text (EARS), Wired magazine reports that "Darpa wants to make systems so accurate, you'll be able to easily record, transcribe and recall all the conversations you ever have." It's a "little freaky," the author admits, since it gives those who wield this technology total omniscience – the power to know everything about everyone at any time.
The parallels to 1984 are obvious: "Always the eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, working or eating, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or in bed — no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull(emphasis added)." The only vestige of privacy is in one's own mind – for now at least.
But even though the average citizen's privacy has been eviscerated, the government continues to operate at unprecedented levels of secrecy. As the Associated Press reports:
…the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama's first year in office.The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier.
In that context, privacy is not dead per se; it is flourishing insofar as the government's inner workings are concerned.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
"They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality…and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything…"
Like Orwell's Ministry of Truth, the opinion molders – the handful of corporations that control the flow of information – sanitize reality to cover for even the worst cases of executive wrongdoing. Their paternalism regards people as mere casual observers to be controlled, not stakeholders to be informed about the democratic process. Their function is to control the narrative of events, for "Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."
AlwaysNever Been At War With East Asia.
Orwell explained doublethink as "holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them…To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed…"
A recently declassified memorandum written by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2001, almost a year and a half before Operation Iraqi Freedom, adds to the plethora of evidence that Rumsfeld, along with the rest of the neoconservative war hawks, concocted false pretexts to market the invasion of Iraq. The same Donald Rumsfeld, who invoked Saddam Hussein's non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) as a casus belli to invade Iraq in 2003, previously armed the same Iraqi dictator with chemical and biological weapons as Ronald Reagans Middle East envoy during the 1980s. Oceania was never at war with East Asia.
But this was an inconvenient fact in the prelude to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and therefore had to be forgotten. It never happened. "Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth." Oceania has always been at war with East Asia.
Conclusion – The Grand Contradiction.
In a historical irony, Orwell's proposed preface to Animal Farm about censorship in the English press was suppressed and remained undiscovered for years after his death. In it, Orwell mounts a principled defense of intellectual freedom during a time when the western press brooked no criticism of Joseph Stalin or his murderous regime. "These people don't see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you," Orwell warned. "Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won't stop at Fascists." Make a habit of endorsing drone strikes in far off lands, and perhaps the next drone will show up in your neighborhood.
In conclusion, the grand contradiction lurking behind all the rhetorical smoke screens is simply this: in trying to rid the world of evil using the tactics of evil, we unleash even greater horrors; we become what we seek to destroy.
Faisal Moghul is an attorney. He can be reached at email@example.com
Alternative Usage vis-a-vis Foreign Policy
In early 2008, the term "Washington Consensus" was used in a different sense as a metric for analyzing American mainstream media coverage of U.S. foreign policy generally and Middle East policy specifically. Marda Dunsky writes, "Time and again, with exceedingly rare exceptions, the media repeat without question, and fail to challenge the "Washington consensus"—the official mind-set of US governments on Middle East peacemaking over time."
According to syndicated columnist William Pfaff, Beltway centrism in American mainstream media coverage of foreign affairs is the rule rather than the exception:
"Time and again, with exceedingly rare exceptions, the media repeat without question, and fail to challenge the "Washington consensus"—the official mind-set of US governments on Middle East peacemaking over time."
Like the economic discussion above the foreign policy usage of the term has less to do with what is included than with what is missing.
A similar view, though by a different name, is taken by Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), a progressive media criticism organization. They note "Official Agendas" as one of nine 'issue areas' they view as causing 'What's Wrong With the News?" They note:
"Despite the claims that the press has an adversarial relationship with the government, in truth U.S. media generally follow Washington's official line. This is particularly obvious in wartime and in foreign policy coverage, but even with domestic controversies, the spectrum of debate usually falls in the relatively narrow range between the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties."
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May 19, 2005 | gregpalast.com
"It's appalling that this story got out there," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on her way back from Iraq.
What's not appalling to Condi is that the US is holding prisoners at Guantanamo under conditions termed "torture" by the Red Cross. What's not appalling to Condi is that prisoners of the Afghan war are held in violation of international law after that conflict has supposedly ended. What is not appalling to Condi is that prisoner witnesses have reported several instances of the Koran's desecration.
What is appalling to her is that these things were reported. So to Condi goes to the Joseph Goebbels Ministry of Propaganda Iron Cross.
But I don't want to leave out our president. His aides report that George Bush is "angry" about the report—not the desecration of the Koran, but the reporting of it.
And so long as George is angry and Condi appalled, Newsweek knows what to do: swiftly grab its corporate ankles and ask the White House for mercy.
But there was no mercy. Donald Rumsfeld pointed the finger at Newsweek and said, "People lost their lives. People are dead." Maybe Rumsfeld was upset that Newsweek was taking away his job. After all, it's hard to beat Rummy when it comes to making people dead.
And just for the record: Newsweek, unlike Rumsfeld, did not kill anyone—nor did its report cause killings. Afghans protested when they heard the Koran desecration story (as Christians have protested crucifix desecrations). The Muslim demonstrators were gunned down by the Afghan military police—who operate under Rumsfeld's command.
Our secretary of defense, in his darkest Big Brother voice, added a warning for journalists and citizens alike, "People need to be very careful about what they say."
And Newsweek has now promised to be very, very good, and very, very careful not to offend Rumsfeld, appall Condi or anger George.
For their good behavior, I'm giving Newsweek and its owner, the Washington Post, this week's Yellow Streak Award for Craven Cowardice in Journalism.
As always, the competition is fierce, but Newsweek takes the honors by backing down on Mike Isikoff's expose of cruelity, racism and just plain bone-headed incompetence by the US military at the Guantanamo prison camp.
Isikoff cited a reliable source that among the neat little "interrogation" techniques used to break down Muslim prisoners was putting a copy of the Koran into a toilet.
In the old days, Isikoff's discovery would have led to congressional investigations of the perpetrators of such official offense. The Koran-flushers would have been flushed from the military, panels would have been impaneled and Isikoff would have collected his Pulitzer.
No more. Instead of nailing the wrong-doers, the Bush administration went after the guy who reported the crime, Isikoff.
Was there a problem with the story? Certainly. If you want to split hairs, the inside-government source of the Koran desecration story now says he can't confirm which military report it appeared in. But he saw it in one report and a witness has confirmed that the Koran was defiled.
Of course, there's an easy way to get at the truth. Release the reports now. Hand them over, Mr. Rumsfeld, and let's see for ourselves what's in them.
But Newsweek and the Post are too polite to ask Rumsfeld to make the investigative reports public. Rather, the corporate babysitter for Newsweek, editor Mark Whitaker, said, "Top administration officials have promised to continue looking into the charges and so will we." In other words, we'll take the Bush administration's word that there is no evidence of Koran-dunking in the draft reports on Guantanamo.
It used to be that the Washington Post permitted journalism in its newsrooms. No more. But, frankly, that's an old story.
Every time I say investigative reporting is dead or barely breathing in the USA, some little smart-ass will challenge me, "What about Watergate? Huh?" Hey, buddy, the Watergate investigation was 32 years ago—that means it's been nearly a third of a century since the Washington Post has printed a big investigative scoop.
The Post today would never run the Watergate story: a hidden source versus official denial. Let's face it, Bob Woodward, now managing editor at the Post, has gone from "All the President's Men" to becoming the President's Man—"Bush at War." Ugh!
And now the Post Company is considering further restrictions on the use of confidential sources—no more "Deep Throats."
Despite its supposed new concern for hidden sources, let's note that Newsweek and the Post have no trouble providing, even in the midst of this story, cover for secret administration sources that are favorable to Bush. Editor Whitaker's retraction relies on "administration officials" whose names he kindly withholds.
In other words, unnamed sources are okay if they defend Bush, unacceptable if they expose the administration's mendacity or evil.
A lot of my readers don't like the Koran-story reporter Mike Isikoff because of his goofy fixation with Monica Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton's cigar. Have some sympathy for Isikoff: Mike's one darn good reporter, but as an inmate at the Post/Newsweek facilities, his ability to send out serious communications to the rest of the world are limited.
A few years ago, while I was tracking the influence of the power industry on Washington, Isikoff gave me some hard, hot stuff on Bill Clinton—not the cheap intern-under-the-desk gossip—but an FBI report for me to publish in The Guardian of Britain.
I asked Isikoff why he didn't put it in Newsweek or in the Post.
He said, when it comes to issues of substance, "No one gives a sh—," not the readers, and especially not the editors who assume that their US target audience is small-minded, ignorant and wants to stay that way.
That doesn't leave a lot of time, money or courage for real reporting. And woe to those who practice investigative journalism. As with CBS's retraction of Dan Rather's report on Bush's draft-dodging, Newsweek's diving to the mat on Guantanamo acts as a warning to all journalists who step out of line.
Newsweek has now publicly committed to having its reports vetted by Rumsfeld's Defense Department before publication. Why not just print Rumsfeld's press releases and eliminate the middleman, the reporter?
However, not all of us poor scribblers will adhere to this New News Order. In the meantime, however, for my future security and comfort, I'm having myself measured for a custom-made orange suit.
Greg Palast was awarded the 2005 George Orwell Prize for Courage in Journalism at the Sundance Film Festival for his investigative reports produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation. See those reports for BBC, Harper's, The Nation and others at www.GregPalast.com.
THE WRONG sort of snow finally pushed Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, over the edge. Enraged with Russia's hopeless weather forecasters, he has vowed to fine them for any more inaccurate, misleading or unreliable predictions. As reported in yesterday's Times, he admonished them in the following, memorable terms: "You are giving us bullshit."
On the other side of the world, Harry G. Frankfurt, the moral philosopher and professor emeritus at Princeton University, would have smiled sagely at that remark. After decades of exploration in the thorniest thickets of philosophy, he has just published a slim treatise entitled On Bullshit (Princeton University Press), an earnest intellectual inquiry into this most pungent and slippery of philosophical concepts. His short theory of bullshit is a testament for our times.
We all think we can identify bullshit. We know when we are talking bullshit ourselves, and we have all been guilty of it at times, in the pub or the pulpit, though some of us produce more than others. Politics thrives on bullshit, while lawyers, advertisers, public relations consultants and talk show hosts produce the stuff in its purest form. Very occasionally, columnists have been known to lapse into it. Every language in the world has a word for it. But what is bullshit? The concept is universally recognised, yet as Professor Frankfurt writes, "the most basic and preliminary questions about bullshit remain, after all, not only unanswered but unasked."
He begins, like all good philosophers, by defining what bullshit is not. Bullshit is dishonest, yet it is not necessarily mendacious. The bullshit artist may not tell you the truth (though he may do so inadvertently), but he is not deliberately lying. This is because bullshit cares nothing for truth or falsehood, accuracy or error, and that is its force and danger.
Both the liar and the honest man must have regard for truth, the former to subvert it and the latter to propagate it. Bullshit, by contrast, is fundamentally unconcerned with truth or falsehood, but only with appearance, effect and persuasion, however transitory. Yuri Luzhkov was not accusing the Moscow weather forecasters of lying, or yet of trying to predict the weather and honestly failing; he was accusing them of not caring about the true weather. The essence of bullshit is getting away with it, with persuading listeners or readers of a sincerity that is, by definition, phoney. The bullshit artist simply does not care about truth: "He pays no attention to it at all," writes Professor Frankfurt. "By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of truth than lies are."
Yet we tolerate bullshit, even though we feign to disregard it. Lies make us morally enraged; mistakes, even honest ones, are unacceptable. The politician or businessman who lies to us, or fouls up, must go; but he can bullshit us with almost perfect impunity. We shrug, we may even grin ruefully, but in our craven hearts we know we are being fed a bluff, on-the-hoof hokum, and we do not care.
Perhaps our ancestors were just as susceptible to bullshit, purveying it and accepting it, as we are. Indeed, as the late Ronald Bell, the Tory MP, once observed, "the connection between humbug and politics is too long established to be challenged." Yet bullshit has surely expanded as fast, if not faster, than the growth of communications generally. The internet is a natural septic tank for it. More than ever, public figures are required to opine on everything, even (and perhaps especially) when they have no idea what they are talking about. During the year when I was parliamentary sketchwriter, I cannot remember a single occasion on which an MP conceded ignorance on any subject whatsoever. Professor Frankfurt is clinical and devastating: "The production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic."
In a sense, the quest to define bullshit is the oldest one in the philosopher's book. Socrates himself explored the tension between rhetoric or sophistry, arguments intended to persuade regardless of whether they were true, and the deeper quest for understanding through philosophy. In this respect, it is worth noting that the term "bull", with a similar meaning, is probably far older, etymologically, than the modern bullshit: the original word seems to have come from the Latin bullire, to boil, bubble or froth. At its source, then, the term has nothing to do with barnyard excrement, but rather the appropriate evocation of pure hot air.
Bullshit makes quite good intellectual fertiliser. Indeed, the American term "bull session" means an occasion to bat around outrageous ideas without concern for accuracy. But cumulatively, and unchecked, bullshit undermines what Professor Frankfurt calls "the possibility of knowing how things really are". Improvised, instantly disposable pseudo-knowledge becomes more important than reality. In a culture where bullshit is endemic, political debate, intellectual argument and appeals for our money and our votes, are all judged on whether they are persuasive, rather than accurate, honest or realistic. Appearance becomes more important than objective fact; we hark to the purveyor of cogent humbug, and sceptically wonder whether anything is true.
If there is one aspect of Professor Frankfurt's thesis that does not go far enough, it is in exploring the distinctively public nature of the subject. Bullshit is not a private matter, but a display, deployed to convey a specific, positive impression to others, regardless of accuracy. It is, in essence, spin.
When Tony Blair says he is a "pretty straight kind of guy", he is implicitly asking his listeners to set aside notions of objective truth and believe in his sincerity. This has become the currency of our political culture. In a world of bullshit, truth seems unknowable, so we are asked to trust the persuasive authenticity of our leaders, who offer to be true, not to the facts, but to themselves. Yet human nature, moral philosophers agree, is impossible to know. In Professor Frankfurt's concluding words: "Our natures are elusively insubstantial . . . and insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit."
With the election we face a fresh torrent of sincerity; but at least the Moscow mayor and the Princeton philosopher have teamed up to prove that it is possible to cut the crap, and seize the bull by the horns.
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February 26, 2005 | Consortiumnews.com
If one accepts George W. Bush's lecture to the Russians that democracy requires a free press unafraid to criticize national leaders, then what kind of political system exists in the United States where the news media seems so scared of Bush that it shies away from mentioning the president's autocratic tendencies?
For the American press, there appears to be no bigger taboo than against questioning Bush's sincerity when he presents himself as the grand promoter of democracy around the world.
Lost to history, apparently, is the moment in December 2000 when Bush joked that "if this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier – so long as I'm the dictator." More substantively, that same month, Bush got five political allies on the U.S. Supreme Court to shut down vote counting in the key state of Florida and hand him the White House.
Bush seized that victory despite the fact that Al Gore got more votes nationally and apparently would have carried Florida – and thus the Electoral College – if all legal votes in the state were counted. [For details on the Election 2000 results, see Consortiumnews.com's "So Bush Did Steal the White House."]
In Election 2004, Bush's supporters took a number of actions designed to suppress the votes of African-Americans and other groups likely to favor Democratic challenger John Kerry. For instance, Democratic precincts in the pivotal state of Ohio were shorted on voting machines, creating long lines and preventing many voters from casting ballots.
Even now, Ohio Republican officials continue to battle appeals by citizen groups to investigate Nov. 2's election irregularities. A thorough investigation also could look at why so many ballots in Democratic precincts either didn't record votes for president or awarded them to obscure third-party candidates. [For a surprisingly skeptical view of Bush's Ohio victory, see Christopher Hitchens's article, "Ohio's Odd Numbers," Vanity Fair, March 2005.]
Before the election, Bush could have ordered Republicans in Ohio and elsewhere to desist from any voter suppression, but he didn't. Now, he could demand full cooperation with citizens trying to investigate what happened on Nov. 2.
But George W. Bush has never stood up for democratic principles when his personal power – or his legitimacy – could be put in doubt. The same could be said of his father. The Bushes seem to love democracy only when they are assured of winning. [See Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq.]
Even at times between presidential elections, George W. Bush has shown no interest in playing fair with Democrats. Most notably, he doesn't restrain his aggressive aides and ambitious supporters – such as Karl Rove and Grover Norquist – when they try to tilt the playing field permanently to the advantage of conservatives and Republicans. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush & the Rise of Managed Democracy."]
Bush was silent, too, when House Majority Leader Tom DeLay took extraordinary actions in Texas to gerrymander congressional districts with the goal of assuring continued Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
This hostility toward meaningful democracy carries over to policy debates. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, instead of encouraging a full and vigorous debate, Bush mocked anti-war demonstrators as a "focus group" and signaled his backers that it was okay to intimidate Americans who questioned his case for war.
So conservative pundits saw no problem in painting former weapons inspector Scott Ritter as a traitor when he objected to Bush's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Bush backers organized a boycott of the Dixie Chicks because one of the group's singers criticized the president. Some Bush backers symbolically drove trucks over the group's CDs.
When actor Sean Penn lost work because of his Iraq War opposition, pro-Bush MSNBC commentator Joe Scarborough chortled, "Sean Penn is fired from an acting job and finds out that actions bring about consequences. Whoa, dude!"
As justification for depriving Penn of work, Scarborough cited a comment that Penn made while on a pre-war trip to Iraq. Penn said, "I cannot conceive of any reason why the American people and the world would not have shared with them the evidence that they [Bush administration officials] claim to have of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." [MSNBC transcript, May 18, 2003]
With Bush's quiet backing, the president's supporters also denigrated skeptical U.S. allies, such as France by pouring French wine into gutters, and U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix for failing to find WMD in Iraq in the weeks before the U.S. invasion. CNBC's right-wing comic Dennis Miller likened Blix's U.N. inspectors to the cartoon character Scooby Doo, racing fruitlessly around Iraq in vans.
At no time publicly did Bush urge his followers to show reasonable respect for Iraq War critics. It was all-hardball-all-the-time, a message not lost on news executives as they fell in line behind the administration's WMD rationale for war.
MSNBC made an example of war critic Phil Donahue by booting him off the network as it competed with Fox News to see which cable news channel could wave the flag more enthusiastically. The Washington Post editorial page dropped all sense of professionalism when it referred to Iraq's supposed possession of WMD stockpiles as fact, not allegation.
As it turned out, of course, the Iraq War critics were right. Bush's claims about Iraq's WMD turned out to be bogus, as even Bush's arms inspectors David Kay and Charles Duelfer concluded in reports written after the invasion.
Notably, however, none of the pundits and journalists who got the Iraq War rationale wrong paid with their jobs. Indeed, some top journalists who fell for Bush's false claims, such as Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, not only continue to thrive but still lambaste those who don't show sufficient enthusiasm for Bush's Iraq policies. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Washington's Ricky Proehl Syndrome."]
Virtually the entire Washington press corps seems to recognize that it's not allowed to suggest that Bush is a hypocrite when he wraps himself in the cloak of democracy.
That was true again during Bush's Second Inaugural Address, which used the words "freedom" and "liberty" over and over again. The sincerity behind the speech drew little or no skepticism from the mainstream press despite Bush's post-Sept. 11, 2001, assertion of nearly unlimited executive power.
In the so-called "war on terror," Bush has asserted the right to detain U.S. citizens without trial once he labels them "enemy combatants." Administration lawyers also have argued that Bush can waive legal restrictions on torture. Meanwhile, Muslims in the United States have complained about discriminatory prosecutions based on flimsy evidence and extraordinary secrecy.
Still, the Washington press corps never challenges Bush when he lectures other countries about democracy as he did in Russia on Thursday, Feb. 24. The only doubt – expressed gently by the White House press corps – was that perhaps Bush didn't confront his friend Vladimir Putin very strenuously over Russia's democratic shortcomings.
At a joint Bush-Putin press conference, Bush was taken at face value when he described the unalterable principles of democracy as the "rule of law and protection of minorities, a free press and a viable political opposition" – even though his record arguably shows that he doesn't accept any of the four.
Bush also portrayed himself as a good example of a political leader who can't get away with hiding his mistakes.
"I live in a transparent country," Bush said. "I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open and people are able to call people [like] me to account, which many out here do on a regular basis. … I'm perfectly comfortable in telling you, our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity."
One Russian questioner challenged Bush on the issue of press freedom, apparently referring to pressure that Bush's conservative supporters have brought to bear on U.S. news organizations to oust journalists who have criticized Bush.
"Why don't you talk a lot about violation of rights of journalists in the United States, about the fact that some journalists have been fired?" the questioner asked.
Bush responded with a joke, which played to the U.S. journalists in the room.
"Do any of you all still have your jobs?" Bush joshed, adding: "People do get fired in American press. They don't get fired by government, however. They get fired by their editors or they get fired by their producers or they get fired by the owners of a particular outlet or network. …
"Obviously there's got to be constraints. I mean, there's got to be truth. People've got to tell the truth. And if somebody violates the truth – and those who own a particular newspaper or those who are in charge of a particular electronic station need to hold people to account."
What neither Bush nor Putin addressed, however, is the common reality of how their two systems work, using pressure from their political allies to influence the decision about whether a journalist is fired for making a mistake or gets a free pass.
So, on one hand, an accomplished journalist like former CBS producer Mary Mapes is shown the door for not adequately checking out a purported memo about Bush shirking his National Guard duty. On the other hand, a Bush ally like the Washington Post's Hiatt keeps his prestigious job despite buying into Bush's false Iraq WMD claims.
The key difference was that powerful voices in the conservative media demanded the head of Mapes, who months earlier had broken the Abu Ghraib sexual abuse scandal. There was no comparable pressure for punishing journalists, such as Hiatt, who had violated journalistic rules by treating a disputed claim – Iraq's WMD – as a settled fact.
The double standard was even more glaring since the facts contained in the questionable Bush-Guard memo were true, while the assertions about Iraq's WMD were not only false but have contributed to the deaths of nearly 1,500 American soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis. [For more on these media double standards, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Bush Rule of Journalism."]
Still, Bush was clearly right at Thursday's press conference when he declared that a free press "is an important part of any democracy" and that "the sign of a healthy and vibrant society is one where there's an active press corps."
But the opposite would seem to hold equally true: that the timidity of the U.S. press corps in holding Bush accountable is a sign that American democratic institutions are neither vibrant nor healthy.
An unscripted, off the cuff, unflattering remark about the President's agenda or policies can cost a journalist his job.
On the February 11th PBS "News Hour," host Jim Lehrer darkly cautioned syndicated journalist Mark Shields to "watch your metaphors, please," after Shields made an allusion to the Kool Aid that the Rev. Jim Jones used to kill his followers at the Jones Town colony in Guyana, decades ago.
This is just another troubling example of journalists being told to watch their mouths when criticizing the President.
Lehrer's Stern Warning
The Lehrer-Shields dialogue went like this:
Lehrer was talking with conservative columnist Richard Lowry and Mark Shields of the Washington post about President George W. Bush's recent campaign to "sell" his Social Security plan to the public. Lehrer asked Lowry about the effectiveness of Bush's "selling his crisis message on Social Security." Lowry said that Republican support in the House of Representatives "firming up" and Bush would win if some Democrats would come on board.
Lehrer then asked Mark Shields what he thought.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It's a great screenplay. It's a great screenplay. It really is. The president spending political capital. Rich is right. Jim, we can't call them town hall meetings. They aren't town hall meetings; they're pep rallies, they're pre-selected. You can't get in there unless you've signed on, unless you've drunk the Kool-Aid and said you're totally with the president. So these are not town meetings.
JIM LEHRER: [sternly] Watch your metaphors, please!
MARK SHIELDS: [defensively] It really is. They're pep rallies. And I think Rich is absolutely right. The president is behind the eight ball on this politically.
This was on PBS, the American citizens' television station. I was witnessing the chillingly tragic consequence of the Bush Administration's attempts at public mind control.
This dawned on me because I'd just returned to the 'States' after having spent three weeks working on a project in recently freed Eastern Europe. The irony of this is that pre-Cold War communist countries were repeatedly accused by American leaders of brain washing their people, of using state-sponsored propaganda, and a plethora of other approaches to public mind control. Now, the Bush Administration had successfully accomplished with subtlety what the Soviet Union had been unable to do with its heavy handed approach.
In Bush's world, American journalists must be careful of what they think -- and especially say – when their comments are carried on the airwaves.
CNN's News Chief Loses Job After Comments on Iraq War
Think I'm exaggerating? The very same day as Lehrer warned Shields on PBS about "watching his metaphors," The New York Times reported, "CNN News Chief Quits Following Controversial Remarks." This underscored what not saying nice things about the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq can lead to.
CNN's Chief News Executive Eason Jordan quit Friday, February 11, 2005, amid a furor over remarks he had made at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month about journalists killed by the U.S. military in Iraq. During a panel discussion, Jordan had said that he believed several journalists who had been killed in Iraq by coalition forces that included American troops had been targeted. That did it. Soon Jordan was made to recant.
"I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise," he said in a memo to CNN staff members.
So apparently it is forbidden for American journalists to dare imply that Bush's army in Iraq may have targeted journalists.
Jordan was speaking at what was initially a very mild panel discussion titled "Will Democracy Survive the Media?" The flap came after Jordan said that he knew of 12 journalists who had not only been killed by US troops in Iraq, but had in fact been targeted. He repeated the assertion a few times, which seemed to win favor in parts of the audience.
The discussion was moderated by David R. Gergen, Director for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. The panel included Richard Sambrook, the worldwide director of BBC radio, U.S. Congressman Barney Frank, Abdullah Abdullah, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and Eason Jordan. The audience was a mix of journalists, World Economic Forum attendees, and a US Senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd.
Jordan, an advocate for protections for journalists overseas, was responding to a comment by Congressman Frank that the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were collateral damage. CNN previously reported that most of the journalists were killed by anti-U.S. forces but that the Pentagon has acknowledged killing some journalists accidentally.
However, one witness at the Davos meeting, a Florida businessman named Rony Abovitz, said he was shocked by Jordan's initial claim and asked him to prove it.
"I was quite surprised, especially by his passion for what he was saying," Abovitz wrote in an entry detailing Jordan's comments on a blog from the World Economic Forum. "I thought that this was a huge story, very damning to the U.S., if true."
Abovitz said that others in the room, including Sen. Christopher Dodd, and Rep. Frank, joined in the debate, which became heated before being broken off. But Abovitz, who co-founded a medical technology company in Hollywood, Fla., said that he felt obliged to blog it after realizing that others weren't going to report on it.
Abovitz, who has been deluged by requests for interviews, said both the right and the left have used this as a way of moving their agendas forward. But he said that wasn't his intention.
"My real interest is in this concept of transparency, accountability and objective fairness in media," Abovitz wrote. "These were values discussed at the WEF, and right in front of my eyes they were being put to a serious test."
"Due to the nature of the forum, I was able to directly challenge Eason, asking if he had any objective and clear evidence to backup these claims, because if what he said was true, it would make Abu Ghraib look like a walk in the park. David Gergen was also clearly disturbed and shocked by the allegation that the U.S. would target journalists, foreign or U.S. He had always seen the U.S. military as the providers of safety and rescue for all reporters.
"Eason seemed to backpedal quickly, but his initial statements were backed by other members of the audience (one in particular who represented a worldwide journalist group). The ensuing debate was (for lack of better words) a real 'shit storm.'"
Intensifying the issue was the fact that the session was a public forum attended by a U.S. Congressman and a U.S. Senator that was presented in front of an international crowd, and was being broadcast,
However, Rebecca MacKinnon, describing herself as a recovering TV reporter-turned-blogger, posted the following comments in her article "Blogstorm Descending on CNN" at the Captain Ed Weblog (2/2/05). Writes Mackinnon:
"Right-wing blogs, including Little Green Footballs, have moved their sights from CBS to CNN. At the center of the blogstorm are comments made by my former boss Eason Jordan at Davos, in which he alleged that the U.S. military had been targeting journalists in Iraq."
"The official WEF summary does not mention Eason's remarks, and there is no transcript or webcast. But I was in the room and Rony's account is consistent with what I heard. I was also contributing to the Forumblog, but to be honest, Jordan happens to be my former boss who promoted me and defended me in some rather sticky situations after my reporting angered the Chinese government.
"As CNN's 'senior statesman' over the years, Eason has done some things I agreed with and other things I wondered about. But at least when it came to China, he was no apologist and defended my reports on human rights abuses and political dissent."
CNN Backs Jordan, Sort Of, With Too Little, Too Late
On February 7, 2005, CNN finally responded to the allegations that Jordan had committed an irresponsible act of journalistic "misconduct" in Davos, Switzerland:
"Many blogs have taken Mr. Jordan's remarks out of context. Eason Jordan does not believe the U.S. military is trying to kill journalists. Mr. Jordan simply pointed out the facts: While the majority of journalists killed in Iraq have been slain at the hands of insurgents, the Pentagon has also noted that the U.S. military on occasion has killed people who turned out to be journalists. The Pentagon has apologized for those actions. Mr. Jordan was responding to an assertion by Cong. [Barney] Frank that all 63 journalist victims had been the result of 'collateral damage'."
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin blogged her follow-up on this story after speaking with Rep. Barney Frank (who reiterated Jordan's fateful words at Davos) and with David Gergen, who had moderated the panel discussion.
According to Gergen (who has known Jordan for 20 years), Jordan had, in fact, said that journalists in Iraq had been targeted by military "on both sides." Jordan then "realized as soon as the words had left his mouth that he had gone too far" and "walked himself back."
Gergen told Malkin that he asked Jordan point blank whether [or not] he believed the policy of the U.S. military was to sanction the targeting of journalists. According to Gergen, Jordan answered no, but then proceeded to speculate about a few incidents involving journalists killed in the Middle East -- a discussion which Gergen decided to close down because "the military and the government weren't there to defend themselves."
Thus, in Gergen's account, Jordan did not appear to have "walked himself back" far enough for Gergen to think it appropriate for the discussion to have continued.
But in Bush's New World Order, by February 7, 2005, seasoned journalist Jordan had already been driven from his newsroom -- permanently. So then the issue is not simply whether or not journalists are targeted in Iraq by American troops, which is still unresolved. Rather, today's issue is that American journalists who open their mouths and don't follow some kind of ideological line are targeted at home. For a free and democratic society, that should be frightening.
Frederick Sweet is Professor of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. You can email your comments toFred@interventionmag.com
Posted Friday, February 18, 2005
02-23-2005 | Tallahassee Democrat
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
The news media got an unusual bashing during last year's bitter electoral campaigns. They got slapped around from all sides, and everybody argued about how the media tried either to undermine Bush or discredit Kerry or both.
Still, it's never clear why some media wrongs are made into a big deal while others slip by. Take the CBS "60 Minutes" report on Bush's military nonservice: The story itself was old, the dubious evidence was of dubious importance, and the broadcast had no discernible effect. It became a major scandal anyway.
On the other end of the scale is an instance of clear-cut media wrongdoing that involved unquestionably fraudulent evidence and had dramatic consequences. This one, however, has gone largely unremarked. It is the famous incident involving Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean that is known as The Dean Scream.
And with Dean's recent appointment as Democratic Party chairman it's being hauled out as constituting the ceiling on whatever political ambitions he might still have, proof that he's shaky, unstable, unfit to serve - Howard Dean's Chappaquiddick.
You've seen the clip. After Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at the Super Bowl, it's the most famous news video of 2004. Dean is addressing campaign supporters after he lost the Iowa party caucuses in January. He's screaming for no apparent reason, practically shrieking, ticking off the states where he's vowing to continue the race. His face is red, his voice breaking. He looks deranged. It's a portrait of a man out of control. It's documentary evidence that Dean lacks the temperament for high office.
In fact the Dean Scream was a fraud, probably the clearest instance of media assassination in recent U.S. political history.
Last year, a young cable news producer attended one of our twice-yearly Ethics Institutes at Washington and Lee University, in which students and journalists gather to discuss newsroom wrongdoing. He brought two clips.
The first was the familiar pool footage of Dean in Iowa. The candidate filled the screen, no supporters were visible. Crowd noise was silenced by the microphone he held, which deadened ambient sounds. You saw only him and heard only his inexplicable screaming.
The second clip was the same speech taped by a supporter on the floor of the hall. The difference was stunning. The place was packed. The noise was deafening. Dean was on the podium, but you couldn't hear him. The roar from his supporters was drowning him out.
Dean was no longer scary, unhinged, volcanic, over the top. He was like the coach of a would-be championship NCAA football team at a pre-game rally, trying to be heard over a gym full of determined, wildly enthusiastic fans. I saw energy, not lunacy.
The difference was context. As psychiatrist R.D. Laing once wrote: We see a woman on her knees, eyes closed, muttering to someone who isn't there. Of course, she's praying. But if we deny her that context, we naturally conclude she's insane.
The Dean Scream footage that was repeatedly aired rests on a similar falsehood. It takes a man who in context was acting reasonably, and by stripping away that context transforms him into a lunatic.
But that clip was aired an estimated 700 times on various cable and broadcast channels in the week after the Iowa caucus. The people who showed that clip are far more technically sophisticated than I and had to understand how tight visual framing and noise-suppression hardware can distort reality.
True, some network news executives commented afterward that perhaps the footage was overplayed and offered the bureaucrat's favorite bromide, that hindsight is 20/20. But the media establishment has never acknowledged this as a burning matter of ethical harm.
That's because the Dean Scream incriminates the entire professional mission of television news, which is built around the primacy of the picture. TV producers don't profess to offer meaning and context; they get you the visuals, unless they're gory or obscene. The notion that great footage would be not shown just because it's profoundly misleading - that's a possibility few TV news executives would entertain.
That's why they're not eager to see the Dean Scream enter the canon of journalistic sin. And if that leaves Howard Dean's political future hobbled by a lie, so be it.
Edward Wasserman is Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University. He wrote this column for The Miami Herald. Contact him at email@example.com.
February 20, 2005 | The Observer
For two years Jeff Gannon cut an unobtrusive figure at White House press conferences. The shaven-headed, craggily handsome man worked for an obscure news agency called Talon News, known for its conservative sympathies. He was often the subject of jokes by colleagues on weightier news organisations.
No one is laughing now, because Gannon was far from being a harmless distraction. He was writing under a false name and working for a Republican front organisation. Suddenly, his 'softball' questions to White House officials looked less like eccentricities and more like plotting by an administration which has frequently displayed a dark mastery of the arts of press control.
When it emerged that Gannon was also linked to gay prostitution websites and might be a gay prostitute himself, the scandal as to how he was allowed daily access to the White House grew even murkier. The American media is now being forced to confront the possibility that Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, was simply a Republican plant, used by officials, including President George W Bush, to ask easy questions in difficult press conferences. 'The idea of having a mole in the White House press corp is amazing, but that's what it looks like,' said Jack Lule, a journalism professor at Lehigh University.
But the Gannon affair, which has shocked much of America's political establishment, is just the latest scandal in the media establishment. Newspapers including the New York Times and USA Today have been hit by plagiarism and forgery scandals. Other papers and television stations have been consumed with a soul-searching inquest into how they were misled about non-existent Iraqi weapons programmes. Added to that is growing evidence of a White House campaign to bypass or control the media in its everyday presentation of government policy , which included paying one journalist hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote its policies.
Last week a federal watchdog warned the Bush administration that any video news releases must state that the government is the source. Twice in two years, government departments have been accused of distributing fake news packages, using actors as journalists.
On the internet, the mainstream media is derided and scorned. One question is dominating US newsrooms and television studios: ignored, scandalised and now corrupted, just what is America's mainstream media for anymore?
The extent of the Bush White House's command and control of the press corps is often revealed in the seemingly innocuous White House pool reports. These are dispatches dutifully filed by a correspondent assigned to travel with Bush and contain little but lists of endless meetings, meals eaten and clothes worn. But no detail is too small to be ignored by Bush's ever-watchful press handlers. One report, on 13 August 2004, contained a remark from Bush that it was a 'good question' as to who to support if Iraq's soccer team played the United States in the Olympics. Officials scurried to 'correct' it. 'To clear up any possible misconception ... the president would of course support the American soccer team in any hypothetical game with Iraq,' a new report said. 'The initial report should have done more to reflect the exchange was mainly in jest.'
Such micromanagement has been a hallmark of the Bush White House and its all-powerful policy guru, Karl Rove. Added to that has been what appears to be a concerted effort to subvert the mainstream media.
Administration officials were recently revealed to have paid three senior journalists to promote or design policies. More than $240,000 of taxpayers' cash was paid to black pundit Armstrong Williams to push the agenda of Bush's education department. Critics were blunt in their assessment of what Armstrong's contract with the government meant. 'It is propaganda,' said Melanie Sloan of watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.
At the same time, Bush has held fewer Washington press conferences than any of his modern predecessors, while courting local media, such as small city newspapers, which are perceived as easier to steamroll. During last year's election campaign Bush avoided interviews with leading newspapers, such as the Washington Post , but frequently invited reporters from smaller swing state publications to speak with him on Air Force One. Vice-president Dick Cheney took the strategy one step further and banned New York Times reporters from travelling with him.
The media has not helped its own case. First, New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was found to have plagiarised numerous stories. The incident cost Blair his job, forced the editor to resign and was the subject of fevered Manhattan dinner party chatter for months. Then USA Today 's top foreign reporter, Jack Kelley, was discovered to have fabricated stories from around the world and invented interviews and witnesses from Cuba to Jerusalem.
Right-wing media ratcheted up the long-standing conservative complaint that the media is dominated by liberal publications. Though many journalism experts deny that is the case, the image has settled in the American consciousness, forcing newspapers, magazines and television stations to go out of their way to prove they are not liberal. 'We have a conservative media and also a mainstream media, which is also now fairly conservative because it has been forced to deny being liberal,' said Lule.
The Gannon case is a prime illustration. If, during the Clinton administration, a fake reporter from a Democrat front organisation, using a false name, had been exposed as attending White House press conferences it would have been a national scandal. If he had then been shown to be a gay prostitute, the scandal could have threatened a Democrat presidency. With 'Gannon' and Bush there has been no such outcry. The mainstream media has approached the story warily, while right-wing organisations such as Fox News have largely ignored it.
That has created a vacuum in the US media. It is a space being filled by 'bloggers' from both left and right who write personal journals, or weblogs, on the internet. It is here that the real media battles are now being fought. The internet has become a sort of Fifth Estate as the Fourth Estate of the mainstream media has slid toward irrelevance. The groundwork was done mainly by the right. Internet gossip hound Matt Drudge, whose Drudge Report is a key source for every American political journalist, struck the first blow with his breaking of the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Since then a plethora of right wing blogs have sprung up. Unlike Britain, where political blogs are barely part of the debate, internet sites in America are seen as a vital political tool. Conservative bloggers have taken two big scalps recently. Last year bloggers questioned the veracity of a CBS news report on Bush's National Guard service. They dumped enough doubt on the story to cause four CBS reporters to lose their jobs, tarnish the reputation of legendary anchor Dan Rather and insure that the substance of the CBS story - whether Bush fulfilled his service - never emerged as an election issue.
Last week, CNN's chief news executive, Eason Jordan, resigned after an internet campaign prompted by his claim that American soldiers targeted journalists in Iraq. Though Jordan said that his remarks had been misinterpreted, the bloggers' revenge was so vehement he ended his 23-year CNN career. One anti-Jordan website, Easongate.com, crowed openly when he quit: 'To every reader, commentator, e-mailer and blogger that committed to this cause, thank you.'
The left has also had victories. It was not the mainstream media that exposed Gannon, but left-wing website Media Matters for America which enlisted other liberal bloggers to help. All the significant breaks in the story emerged online, forcing Gannon to resign, reveal his real name and go into hiding.
Some commentators see the emergence of blogging as a media force as a liberating phenomenon. Unlike the mainstream media, blogging is cheap, easy and open to anyone regardless of qualification or background or money. 'Blogging gives a voice to those who were previously silent,' said Ananda Mitra, a communications professor at Wake Forest University.
Others see it as part of the trend towards partisan journalism. Spearheaded by the nakedly right-wing Fox News, journalism in America has come to resemble a political shouting match rather than any form of debate of the issues. But with soaring viewership, Fox has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the media landscape. Other networks, such as CNN and MSNBC, have sought to copy Fox's personality-led and opinion-based news.
The media is in the midst of a transformation which the Bush administration is keen to foster. They have discovered that a partisan and atomised media can be controlled, manipulated and used to an unprecedented degree.
It is a lesson that liberals are also learning. In answer to the talk radio of Rush Limbaugh - one of America's most popular and conservative commentators - liberal groups have set up Air America. Defying the critics, it has established itself as a left-wing radio network every bit as ruthless in skewering its opponents' points of view as its right-wing equivalents. In answer to right-wing television, former presidential candidate Al Gore is rumoured to be seeking backers to finance a liberal television network. Now both sides are equally ready and willing to use any means necessary to tear the other apart. The old-fashioned mainstream media is disappearing. 'Once that pattern is put in place, it is going to be hard to break,' said Lule.
A series of scandals have not helped the American media's reputation and its struggle for independence.
New York Times
Reporter Jayson Blair was fired and the newspaper's editor forced to resign after Blair was found to have plagiarised numerous stories.
Foreign reporter Jack Kelly was discovered to have invented stories, interviews and witnesses from around the world.
Four reporters lost their jobs and the reputation of legendary anchor Dan Rather was tarnished after doubts were cast on a news report of Bush's National Guard Service.
Chief news executive Eason Jordan resigned his 23-year career after he claimed that American soldiers had deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq.
Feb 06, 2005 | Wired News
The Pentagon's chief investigator is looking into the military's practice of paying journalists to write articles and commentary for a website aimed at influencing public opinion in the Balkans, officials said Friday.
At the request of Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon's inspector general, Joseph Schmitz, is reviewing that case and also looking more broadly at Pentagon activities that might involve inappropriate payments to journalists.
Di Rita said he had no reason to believe any inappropriate activities had taken place but wanted a comprehensive review to "help ensure our processes are sufficiently sensitive to this matter." He stressed that the web projects are done in close coordination with the State Department.
The Balkans website, called Southeast European Times, as well as a second aimed at audiences in north Africa, have no immediately obvious connection to the U.S. government but contain a linked disclaimer that says they are "sponsored by the U.S. European Command." That is the military organization based in Germany responsible for U.S. forces and military activities in Europe and parts of Africa.
The second site, called Magharebia and aimed at the Maghreb region that encompasses Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia, is still in development and has not reached the stage of having paid correspondents, said Air Force Lt. Col. Derek Kaufman, a European Command spokesman.
Both sites carry news stories compiled from The Associated Press, Reuters and other news organizations. The Pentagon's role in these websites was first reported by CNN on Thursday.
The Balkans website also has articles and commentary by about 50 journalists who Kaufman said are paid by European Command through a private contractor, Anteon, an information technology company based in Fairfax, Virginia.
The websites are examples of what the military calls "information operations," or programs designed to influence public opinion by countering what the Pentagon considers to be misinformation or lies that circulate in the international news media. The Pentagon's use of the websites has raised questions about blurring the lines between legitimate news and what some would call government propaganda.
The Balkans site grew out of the U.S. air war against Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1999, Kaufman said. It sought to counter what U.S. officials considered a Serb propaganda machine that made effective use of the internet.
The site aimed at north Africa was started in October 2004 and is a new "weapon" in the global war on terror.
"This specifically is trying to reach a youthful audience that is potentially ripe for extremist messages and terrorist recruitment," Kaufman said. "It's very much an effort to provide a voice of moderation, but it's not disinformation. Every printed word is the truth."
Di Rita said in an interview Friday that he approves of the effort to present information to counter anti-American internet material, but he wants to make sure it is done properly and transparently. He said he first learned of the Southeast European Times site last week.
Kaufman said information warfare experts at European Command do not edit the stories written by contributing journalists for Southeast European Times, but they "review" the stories after they are processed by Anteon editors, and they sometimes change the headlines. He cited as an example a proposed headline that originally read, "Croatian Prime Minister Remembers Holocaust Victims," which European Command changed to "Croatian Prime Minister Remarks on Dangers of Extremism," which Kaufman said "more closely reinforced" the U.S. message.
About 50 paid correspondents contribute to Southeast European Times, including one American journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Kaufman said. Another European Command spokesman, Air Force Maj. Sarah Strachan, said many of the journalists work primarily for news organizations, although she said the details of those employers could not be provided for privacy reasons.
Kaufman said the journalists are paid according to the number of words in their articles that are approved for posting on the website, at a rate set by Anteon.
In a letter Thursday to the Pentagon inspector general, Di Rita asked for a comprehensive review in light of recent disclosures that other government agencies paid journalists to promote administration policies.
"I have no reason to believe there might be a problem," Di Rita wrote, but he said a review was called for in view of the Defense Department's size and its complex budgeting structure.
Without mentioning him by name, Di Rita alluded to the case of commentator Armstrong Williams, who was hired by the Education Department -- through a contract with a public relations firm -- to produce ads that featured former Education Secretary Rod Paige and promoted President Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Two other cases of columnists being paid to help promote administration policies have come to light in recent weeks, and Bush said Jan. 26 that the practice must stop.
"It would be most helpful to review activities going back six to eight years, as I assume many existing relationships have continued for that many years or longer," Di Rita wrote, noting the Southeast European Times operation. "It would be appropriate to review that activity and others like it."
It was not clear Friday whether other U.S. military commands have similar website operations. Navy Capt. Hal Pittman, the chief spokesman at Central Command, responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, said, "We're reviewing the utility of this kind of website."
HaaretzThe Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced on Sunday it was setting up an "army of bloggers," to be made up of Israelis who speak a second language, to represent Israel in "anti-Zionist blogs" in English, French, Spanish and German.
... ... ...
...Other languages in which bloggers are sought include Russian and Portuguese.
Halfon said volunteers who send the Absorption Ministry their contact details by e-mail, at firstname.lastname@example.org, will be registered according to language, and then passed on to the Foreign Ministry's media department, whose personnel will direct the volunteers to Web sites deemed "problematic."
Within 30 minutes of announcing the program, which was approved by the Foreign Ministry on Sunday, five volunteers were already in touch, Halfon said.
Back in days when liberals ruled the roost in America, a trio of conservatives helped turn the tide with bold ideas and personal stature:
Barry Goldwater was a flinty, conviction-driven prophet; Ronald Reagan brought sunny optimism to the movement; William F. Buckley Jr. was the erudite pundit whose arched eyebrows and flicking tongue made him a comedians' delight.
Nowadays, gorged with political power and fueled by corporate power, conservatism has lost its class.
The political right's public forum has become the partisan, one-sided echo chamber of talk radio, where seldom is heard a dissenting word.
On the screen, our culture is debased and debate stifled by Rupert Murdoch's media empire (Fox News Channel). Where once there was Buckley, now we see Fox loudmouth Bill O'Reilly shouting "Shut up! Shut up!" and "I don't care what you think!" at the anti-war son of a World Trade Center victim before cutting off the young man's microphone.
Al Franken was a master satirist on "Saturday Night Live," co-authoring such famous skits as the one in which a hunched, sweating Richard Nixon (played by Dan Aykroyd) prowled the White House carrying on imagined conversations with his predecessors' portraits.
The advent of right-wing media has inspired fear, but transformed Franken into a fearless critic of those who (he says) "distort, lie, cheat and shill for the Bush administration."
With help from an unsuccessful Fox lawsuit to block its publication and a Los Angeles Book Fair confrontation with O'Reilly -- who shouted "Hey, shut up! You had your 35 minutes. Shut up!" at him -- Franken's latest book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" is atop the best seller lists.
"The mainstream media is cowed," Franken said in an interview this week. "The drumbeat of repetition from the right -- 'liberal media,' 'liberal media' -- has scared them. They don't want to be accused of being liberal.
"This administration has also used intimidation by denying access to those who dare question. (Hearst columnist) Helen Thomas is being shut out because she has the nerve to ask some real questions."
Hard words, but lately others have dared to speak them.
In his Tuesday speech here, former President Clinton spoke of the "supine mood" of establishment media in not daring to criticize Bush.
CNN's crack foreign correspondent Christiane Amanpour acknowledged last week that the press muzzled itself during the Iraq War.
"I'm sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News," she said. "And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of work we did."
What happens in a climate of intimidation? A quartet of costs to democracy would include:
- The loss of genuine debate: The kind of probing, honest exchange of viewpoints, a hallmark of Buckley's "Firing Line," has been supplanted by shouting matches.
The illusion of balance is sometimes provided, as on the Fox show where rising right-wing propagandist Sean Hannity is set up to work over the (in Franken's words) "moderate milquetoast?" Alan Colmes.
A part of it may be that the new warrior class of conservative intellectuals has a yawning secret to hide. Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, Dick Armey, George Will, Bill Bennett, Tom DeLay and Bill O'Reilly share a common trait: Not one of these architects or cheerleaders for our Iraq policy served in the military or Vietnam.
- The loss of needed criticism: In the 1950s, a time of Red-hunting in Washington, D.C., and complacency in the country, a man raised in Edison and educated at Washington State used the tube to provoke and challenge.
Edward R. Murrow exposed the lies and distortions of Sen. Joe McCarthy, and with such programs as "Harvest of Shame" (on the plight of migrants) exposed the country's social problems.
"People think twice now before speaking out," said Franken. "A part of it is media conglomeration: Clear Channel owns four times as many radio stations as anyone else.
"If you are a musician and against war, you look what happened to the Dixie Chicks: Clear Channel organized burning of their records and did not play them."
The advent of propaganda: The conservative media have the power to "push" a party line across the country.
Talk radio and the popular Drudge Report Web site feast on daily talking points of the Republican Party, with no one to talk back.
"It is pretty well organized, but a lot of them don't need talking points," said Franken. "It's an echo chamber in which the message gets heard pretty quick."
In the Fox News Channel, America comes as close as has ever been the case to a state television network.
- The loss of diversity: Rush Limbaugh was correct to describe his followers as "dittoheads." Right-thinking is the watchword of America's 1,300 talk radio stations, an estimated 95 percent of them on the political right.
How many progressive voices to do you hear on KVI and KTTH, Seattle's two prime talk stations?
Uniformity is stifling, whatever its ideology: This space takes frequent pokes at the insularity and political correctness of the Seattle Left.
In the land of right-wing talk, and bland television, much gets suppressed. Questioning of war gets shouted down.
"You were sickening then: You are sickening now," Fox's business editor, Neil Cavuto, told one unfortunate dissenter.
So do other questions that need airing: Why is the Interior Department, overseeing America's public lands, run de facto by a former coal lobbyist?
Why has the Bush administration rewritten Clean Air Act rules to let mining waste be dumped into surrounding waterways?
A fledgling Chicago-based outfit called AnShell Media is reportedly working to bring some liberal voices to the radio waves.
In the meantime, defying the invective of Rupert Murdoch's minions, Franken is out raising hell. More power to him.
Remember that the Sun-Times is part of the Conrad Black Hollinger media empire, which is adamantly pro-Bush and pro-Iraq war. Richard Perle, for instance has close financial and "journalistic" ties to the Hollinger media empire, including more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers in Canada, the United States, Britain, Israel and Australia.
...facts, ideas and voices in our culture are filtered by a propaganda system promoting the goals of powerful interests. This is not achieved through any kind of conspiracy but through the operation of market forces allied with "man's capacity of not observing what he does not want to observe", such that "he may be sincere in denying a knowledge which he would have, if he wanted only to have it", in the words of psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan.
But how far do the effects of this system of filtering extend into our ideas about ourselves and the world?
Consider, for example, that the same filtering influences the literature we read. Noam Chomsky argues that George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 (both standard school texts) are as highly-regarded as they are, not because they provide particularly astute insights into modern systems of tyranny, but because they constituted suitable satirical attacks against our long-time enemy the Soviet Union. Chomsky comments:
"Fame, Fortune and Respect await those who reveal the crimes of official enemies; those who undertake the vastly more important task of raising a mirror to their own societies can expect quite different treatment. George Orwell is famous for Animal Farm and 1984, which focus on the official enemy. Had he addressed the more interesting and significant question of thought control in relatively free and democratic societies, it would not have been appreciated, and instead of wide acclaim, he would have faced silent dismissal or obloquy."
(Noam Chomsky - Deterring Democracy, Hill And Wang, 1992, p.372)
Historian Howard Zinn explains Plato's standing as one of the "untouchables" of modern culture by the fact that he advocated blind obedience to government, and thus has long been in favour with governments and educational systems working to instil the 'right' attitudes in the young. In the Crito, for example, Plato has Socrates refuse to escape from prison on the following grounds, here paraphrased by Zinn:
"'No, I must obey the law. True, Athens has committed an injustice against me by ordering me to die for speaking my mind. But if I complained about this injustice, Athens could rightly say: 'We brought you into this world, we raised you, we educated you, we gave you and every other citizen a share of all the good things we could'. Socrates accepts this, saying: 'By not leaving Athens, I agreed to obey its laws. And so I will go to my death'."
(Howard Zinn, Failure To Quit, Common Courage Press, 1993, p.154)
It is important to be aware of the anti-democratic nature of these arguments and of the high regard in which they are held in modern 'democratic' states, Zinn argues, because they are a way of thinking which every nation-state drums into the heads of its citizens from the earliest possible age.
In their book Political Shakespeare, Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield even dare to suggest that one reason why Shakespeare has been so popular for so long is because his writing promotes an essentially right-wing view of the world, one suitable to the long-standing requirements of the ruling elite. They quote academic Rachel Sharp, who writes:
"The power relations which are peculiar to market society are seen as how things have always been and ought to be. They acquire a timelessness which is powerfully legitimised by a theory of human nature... Political struggles to alter present-day social arrangements are seen as futile for 'things are as they are' because of man's basic attributes and nothing could ever be very different." (Quoted Dollimore and Sinfield, Political Shakespeare, Manchester University Press, 1985, p.138)
This was certainly the view of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, who wrote that Shakespeare's plays have continued to be admired for so long because they "correspond to the irreligious and immoral frame of mind of the upper classes of his time and ours".
(Quoted, George Orwell, Inside The Whale And Other Essays, Penguin, 1962, p.104)
In his classic work, Obedience to Authority, psychologist Stanley Milgram explained how ordinary people, through their unthinking abdication of responsibility, make great evil possible:
"The most common adjustment of thought in the obedient subject is for him to see himself as not responsible for his own actions. He divests himself of responsibility by attributing all initiative to... a legitimate authority. He sees himself not as a person acting in a morally accountable way, but as the agent of external authority." (Milgram, Obedience to Authority, Pinter & Martin, 1974, p.25)
It doesn't matter what job we are doing, or how much we are paid, our actions always have consequences, and we are always responsible for them. It will surely not impress the grieving parents of an incinerated Iraqi child in February that Bruce sees herself as 'just the person who reads the autocue'. We are never 'just' any job description - we are human beings with moral responsibilities.
The French philosopher Jean Guehenno has said that "the worst betrayal of intelligence is finding justification for the world as it is". But this is often the role played by experts, to explain the everyday as normal, justifiable, requiring little change, but rather "stability" and few upsets to "world order" unless controlled by us. In fact, the everyday is a horror for many people - the half of the planet that lives in absolute poverty, as well as the victims of torture and repression in the US and British-backed client states, for example.
Elites throughout history have presented their policies as in the natural order of things, which helps to obscure the pursuit of their own particular interests. An important aspect of the ideological system is rendering a single view dominant or "natural", presenting current policies as inevitable, and undermining the possibility of alternatives.
"Globalisation" is presented by elites as such a natural phenomenon, and critics ridiculed as Luddites who cannot stop the inevitable march of history. These curiously Marxist, determinist views mask the elite's goal under globalisation of promoting total global economic "liberalisation" - a far from inevitable outcome, but a strategy chosen by the liberalisation theologists of New Labour, and their allies among the transnational elite.
If the current horrible policies are "normal", the alternatives are "unthinkable". Even to mention the indictment of Tony Blair for war crimes, to oppose British cooperation with the US because it is a consistent supporter of human rights abuses overseas, or even to end arms exports is "unthinkable" in the mainstream and would invite ridicule.
Take the Guardian's Ian Black, who writes that a key aim of the International Criminal Court is to avoid: "politically motivated or frivolous investigations - what one expert calls the 'nutcase factor': for instance, of the possible pursuit of [Northern Ireland secretary] Mo Mowlam or Tony Blair for crimes against humanity". Only "nutcases" could possibly believe Our Leader could ever be guilty of crimes against humanity. (One such "nutcase" is former US Attorney General, Ramsay Clark, who lodged a complaint against Britain in July 1999 for war crimes during its assault on Yugoslavia.)
A customary way for the elite to deflect criticism is to term it a "conspiracy theory", which is common across the ideological system. There is a good reason for it. British elites have built a fundamentally secretive political system for which they are minimally accountable to the public. As noted in chapter 13, they believe the public should have only a marginal say in this system outside elections, and - to judge from some of the views expressed in the Scott inquiry - neither do they think the public should even know what the decision-making processes are. Elites are especially keen to deflect criticism exposing how the system works, which is more threatening than criticising specific policies (which can be dismissed as "exceptions"). The term "conspiracy theory" is often deployed once criticism has moved beyond the specific and is closer to exposing how the system as a whole works.
My view is that "ordinary people" - and I count myself as one of these - generally distrust their sources of information and know, ultimately, not to believe what they read or see. This is partly because ordinary people, in my view, have a much healthier scepticism of those in power than those closer to power or those aspiring to the political class. People have little stake in the elite and therefore have no reason to trust it.
But I do not believe that people can be aware of the extent to which to which they are being misinformed. Foreign policy is different from domestic issues, where you only have to spend time in a hospital or have a child who goes to school, to know the state of public services. But with foreign policy people are overwhelmingly reliant on news rather than personal experience, which makes indoctrination much easier. Even if people have enough self-defence mechanisms to avoid being directly told what to think, it is very likely that the media tells them what to think about.
It is not that one cannot discover much about the reality of government policy. All the sources I have used in this book are public. But you have to make a real effort, and spend considerable time, which is simply not possible for most people. It involves proactively looking for alternative sources of information, usually a variety of different sources, to piece together an accurate picture, and then weighing these against mainstream sources.
It also involves what the great Kenyan novelist Ngugi Wa Thiongo has called "decolonising the mind". Ngugi was referring to Africans needing to free themselves from ideologies often subconsciously adopted under colonialism. The British public needs, in my view, to do the same thing, and consciously unlearn most of what we have been informed about and "educated" on regarding Britain's role in the world. This applies not only to the media, but to school and university too. Again, these are not easy tasks.
Overall, I believe that people are being indoctrinated into a picture of Britain's role in the world that supports elite priorities. This is the mass production of ignorance. It actively works against our interests, which is precisely why the ideological system is critical to the elite, who essentially see the public as a threat.
The basic fact is that anyone who wants to understand the reality of Britain's past and current foreign policies cannot do so by relying on the mainstream. As the chapters on Kenya, Malaya, British Guiana, Iran and others have shown, the reality of British policy is systematically suppressed; whole episodes in Britain's history have become severely ideologically treated. Interpretations of history that accord with the preferences of elites are the dominant ones. Given the extent of this ideological treatment of the past, what has happened is akin to the destruction of history. The task of any independent historian is to reconstruct real-life history, to rescue it from a self-serving web of deceit.
Beneath this overarching concept of basic benevolence stands a set of pillars - key strategies promoted by the elite that are assumed to contribute to Britain's benevolent role in the world and promotion of high principles. These strategies make up the single ideology on which there is consensus across the elite, as outlined in chapter 13 - such as strong support for the US, in the context of a special relationship, promotion of global economic "liberalisation", support for key elites, and a strong military intervention capability. Reporting and analysis that fall outside this construct - and certainly that directly challenge it - will tend to get excluded.
The ideological system gears into particular action during war, providing justification for the government's resort to force and backing its (always noble) aims. In war, the public is in effect actively mobilised by the various components of the elite in support of state policy. Television news functions even more extremely ideologically at these times, in practice usually abandoning any pretence of objectivity and acting simply as the mouthpiece of the state, though trying to preserve a facade of independence. Only rarely is real dissent possible in such crises in mainstream newspapers and never on television.
How Tim Russert, Bill O'Reilly, Chris Matthews and their talking-head pals wet-kiss each other all the way to the bank. By Scott Lamb
Editor's note: Lewis Beale writes about culture and film for the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other publications.
(CNN) -- It appears that the police now have a device that can read license plates and check if a car is unregistered, uninsured or stolen. We already know that the National Security Agency can dip into your Facebook page and Google searches. And it seems that almost every store we go into these days wants your home phone number and ZIP code as part of any transaction.
So when Edward Snowden -- now cooling his heels in Russia -- revealed the extent to which the NSA is spying on Americans, collecting data on phone calls we make, it's not as if we should have been surprised. We live in a world that George Orwell predicted in "1984." And that realization has caused sales of the 1949, dystopian novel to spike dramatically upward recently -- a 9,000% increase at one point on Amazon.com.
Comparisons between Orwell's novel about a tightly controlled totalitarian future ruled by the ubiquitous Big Brother and today are, in fact, quite apt. Here are a few of the most obvious ones.
Telescreens -- in the novel, nearly all public and private places have large TV screens that broadcast government propaganda, news and approved entertainment. But they are also two-way monitors that spy on citizens' private lives. Today websites like Facebook track our likes and dislikes, and governments and private individuals hack into our computers and find out what they want to know. Then there are the ever-present surveillance cameras that spy on the average person as they go about their daily routine.
- The endless war -- In Orwell's book, there's a global war that has been going on seemingly forever, and as the book's hero, Winston Smith, realizes, the enemy keeps changing. One week we're at war with Eastasia and buddies with Eurasia. The next week, it's just the opposite. There seems little to distinguish the two adversaries, and they are used primarily to keep the populace of Oceania, where Smith lives, in a constant state of fear, thereby making dissent unthinkable -- or punishable. Today we have the so-called war on terror, with no end in sight, a generalized societal fear, suspension of certain civil liberties, and an ill-defined enemy who could be anywhere, and anything.
- Doublethink -- Orwell's novel defines this as the act of accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct. It was exemplified by some of the key slogans used by the repressive government in the book: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength. It has also been particularly useful to the activists who have been hard at work introducing legislation regulating abortion clinics. The claim is that these laws are only to protect women's health, but by forcing clinics to close because of stringent regulations, they are effectively shutting women off not only from abortion, but other health services.
- Newspeak -- the fictional, stripped down English language, used to limit free thought. OMG, RU serious? That's so FUBAR. LMAO.
- Memory hole -- this is the machine used in the book to alter or disappear incriminating or embarrassing documents. Paper shredders had been invented, but were hardly used when Orwell wrote his book, and the concept of wiping out a hard drive was years in the future. But the memory hole foretold both technologies.
- Anti-Sex League -- this was an organization set up to take the pleasure out of sex, and to make sure that it was a mechanical function used for procreation only. Organizations that promote abstinence-only sex education, or want to ban artificial birth control, are the modern versions of this.
So what's it all mean? In 1984, Winston Smith, after an intense round of "behavior modification" -- read: torture -- learns to love Big Brother, and the harsh world he was born into. Jump forward to today, and it seems we've willingly given up all sorts of freedoms, and much of our right to privacy. Fears of terrorism have a lot to do with this, but dizzying advances in technology, and the ubiquity of social media, play a big part.
There are those who say that if you don't have anything to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of. But the fact is, when a government agency can monitor everyone's phone calls, we have all become suspects. This is one of the most frightening aspects of our modern society. And even more frightening is the fact that we have gone so far down the road, there is probably no turning back. Unless you spend your life in a wilderness cabin, totally off the grid, there is simply no way the government won't have information about you stored away somewhere.
What this means, unfortunately, is that we are all Winston Smith. And Big Brother is the modern surveillance state.
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