Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Greenwald Killing It

So I have been so out of it between certain family events, being on vacation, etc, that I knew nothing of Greenwald's bombshells until late Friday and didn't get a chance to read his columns until Saturday.  So people reading this I'm sure already know what's going on.  He had been somewhat limited in his access to cable news since some of his Wikileaks appearances where he embarrassed the critics, like what happened here with Fran Townsend.  I'd read he didn't go on CNN again after that appearance.  Until now.  He's back on.  And he's doing to others what he did to Fran Townsend and the idiot CNN host back then.

From the right wing Newsbusters website, watch him expose the CNBC host's errors and spin.  Here he is with CNN's Anderson Cooper taking on Ari Fleischer.  Here in a fair interview with Howard Kurtz he addresses some of his critics.

Unfortunately, but for me unsurprisingly, polls show a majority of Americans do support this total surveillance state that has been revealed.  I think we shouldn't get discouraged by that.  Even Greenwald himself after 9-11 still bought off on a lot of lies, generally assumed our government was engaging in foreign policy with benevolent intent, and supported the invasion of Iraq from a kind of uninformed perspective that granted the benefit of the doubt to our leaders.  This was the place I found myself in as well.  I think a lot fewer Americans are similarly duped today.  We need to keep plugging away.

I want to address one argument you hear frequently from people that don't object to this total surveillance that is in the hands of this largely unaccountable institution called the NSA.  People say they don't object because they have nothing to hide.  If you have nothing to hide and it can conceivably prevent terrorism, what's the harm?

But it's not necessarily about what you have to hide.  Consider that Edward Snowden said he had access to everything, even conceivably emails involving the President.  Can democracy really function in this way?  Suppose Snowden had a friend facing a DUI.  What's to stop him from taking a look at emails from the presiding judge, digging for something to embarrass the judge and pressure him to offer a favorable ruling?  What's to stop someone from serving the interests of a powerful corporation that wants to pollute in your district from taking a look at your Congressman's history.  Suppose he discovers an affair.  Then for reasons that aren't clear your Congressman suddenly doesn't mind putting a toxic landfill upstream from your house.  What's to stop even more powerful people from similarly manipulating the President?

This is not a hypothetical scenario.  This is exactly the kind of abuse that was going on with the FBI under J Edgar Hoover.  You can be sure it's happening now.  Give unaccountable people all the power and they'll abuse it.  That's why we have a 4th amendment to our Constitution.


Mika Brzezinski takes on Glenn.  Wow, it's hard to find a person more skilled.  And it's kind of like Chomsky.  He has his facts in order, so to try and spin just doesn't work.  We couldn't ask for a better spokesperson than Glenn Greenwald.  You see how these talk show hosts get embarrassed and you understand why they don't want to interview him.


Jonathan said...


I was wondering when you were going to discuss this. I think this podcast episode pretty much puts this whole thing in context historically, and lays out the various moving peaces of the story.

I think I agree with pretty much 90% of what Carlin is saying which I think puts me in the rarified air of being a Pro-Life Christian who believes in Evolution, Global Warming, and a whole lot more privacy than we currently have (put that in your pipe and smoke it Examinator :-) )

Direct Download



Examinator said...

Vacation? hmm that doesn't fit with your asceticism ;-) Sorry to read that there was sickness there too.. Poor didums ? Or something more serious. Personally I'm like most males a bloody great sook (cry baby) when it comes to trivial health issues. A colb in the nobe is a major issue or so it would appear by my behaviour!

And I thought you were pro life ...smoking? toxic E waste too!! (computer screens) tsk tsk ;-P

By and large I tend to agree with Carlin's MP3, but not entirely he did leave a lot hanging. I've been saying much of it for years.
Unlike him I believe the “system is structurally” flawed … parties and that competence isn't big in the choosing of representatives, in fact the way they're chosen. Here I'm also talking about the media.
I would point out to him that he glossed over the 'conflicts' in the drafting of the Constitution, specifically that the founding fathers were split on who should hold the power. Many held the view that those who were rich were best to hold power because they had the wider knowledge.... this was the original reason for the 'independence' of states … rather than majority rule (aka mob rule) .

He also made, in my mind the morally fatal mistake that 40000 deaths per year from road accidents ( he ignored the untold injuries etc) is an acceptable loss for 'freedom'. Primarily he resort to unacceptable extremes in this case sobriety tests before each car journey.... There are a myriad of other options in between. My concern is that he didn't think the issues through. He went onto claim that corporate (mis) use of privacy data is wrong as is government .

By his logic one could argue that 40000 soldiers deaths defending or proselytising Christianity or American interests ( read lifestyle/ corporate profit) is also an acceptable price to pay for the greater national moral good; “because it's noble to sacrifice ones lives for the country and what it believes”, Rightie/ ( US versions of Republican /libertarian) 101 . What's the difference morally or functionally? 40000 deaths and perhaps 3 times that number injured or maimed in either case ?
BTW how many innocent Non Americans does he or other Americans should morally suffer or die because of America's ( commercial/ religious/ profligate lifestyle) interests?

Am I the only (if ex) American, able to see the circle of cause and effect going on. Let me assure you it isn't lost on the other 6 Billion people's nations that makes up the world .
FLASH!! this isn't just a domestic topic / issue ! Despite the US media playing it that way ( a bubble that other countries should mind their own business about) in that perspective it's BIGGER THAN Watergate ( a domestic issue)

One aspect of this “revelation ?” that has been missed by all this USA shock at their navel fluff is the reactions from other countries i.e. 'allies'. Australian media and politicians on how many Australian citizen have or are being targeted on the QT by the NSA (American government) . I mean besides Assange … his paranoia is looking a whole lot less so today . Let's not forget the US Administrations saying that there were no plans to rendition him. That and the leaked ' secret Grand Jury' . Add to that US claimed exceptionalism to renditioning and or prosecutions of US citizens O/S. And Mericans wonder why there is such hostility towards them that engenders terrorism and so the cycle goes up a gear. All because the Americans have this culture that they erroneously, deserve (superiority) exceptional rights.
But Carlin won't go there because the public can't face that.

Examinator said...

In fact Carlin is doing exactly what the US MSM is doing lacking perspective.
BTW I also disagree that journalism should be adversarial. That opens up THE FACTS selectivity and distortion (the interests of the power players). Free press in a capitalist market like America is an oxymoron. and part of the core problem

Jon said...

Yeah, sick too. Vacation was camping. In a tent, not an RV. So still pretty ascetic. Very sick. Slept the whole time. I lost like 8 lbs. Just to get up and go to the bathroom would wipe me out. That was nuts.

Chad said...

Awesome on the camping - probably going up to Summerfield KOA late this summer we should hook up!

Absolutely freaking torn on this subject - just gut wrenchingly torn to be honest.

I like your example and your right powerful people can use the data. How about financially as well - knowing what company will be built where and when. Stocks - investments - very powerful data.

On the other hand - we live in social media daily - I think we are becoming conditions to think that someone is watching our every move (Truman Show) anyhow. Plus people just love posting their every move on Facebook and Twitter anyhow so many volunteer to give away their privacy.

Personally - I have absolutely no clue what I think or what position I have right now. The one thing gov't is supposed to do is protect America and technology gives them a way to do that quickly and accurately but it means giving up some of our privacy.

Damned if you do situation, but damned if you don't.

Jon said...

Chad, in response to your concern about the government protecting us, I'd ask you to consider this point. Do you know that toddlers killed more Americans last year than terrorists. Falling coconuts, lightning. This stuff is more dangerous than terrorists. So if we were facing a threat like the one posed by Nazi Germany or something, well OK, maybe you're right to struggle trying to balance privacy and security. It's nowhere near that level. It's truly a non threat. There is no terrorist threat. And really I don't think this stuff does much to prevent further attacks. Look at Boston. A couple of incompetent morons still can pull stuff like that off. You can't really prevent someone from buying fertilizer, pressure cookers, and nails. We have to be able to live with a little bit of danger. Small as it is, there's no avoiding some danger. Let's stop acting like this represents some sort of existential threat and get our 4th amendment back.

My personal opinion is that this so obviously does little to enhance the safety of Americans, mostly because there basically is no terrorist threat, that it's obviously being done for other reasons. The potential power here is incredible. It's basically 1984 style dictatorship, and nobody can stop it. People with power want more, and that's all this is.

Jonathan said...


I think your analogy is a little bit apples and oranges (the chance the there will be a sudden spike in toddler induced deaths to a number in the hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands is not there, but you can't rule that out in the case of potential terrorism), however I would agree with you that I think you really have to do some major impinging in our rights to privacy before you have a shot at potentially mitigating this type of risk, and by and large this simply is not worth it.

The lesser of two evils in the current state of things is to accept the fact that there could/will be some terrorist attacks in the future that we just aren't going to be able to stop, and move on.

An interesting theory Dan Carlin says is that terrorist attacks are like flees biting the dog. The intent is to drive the dog to bite himself and tear himself to shreds, not directly take down the dog. Our overreaction to major terrorist attacks, and future major attacks are the main concern, not the prospect of any type of attack to begin with.

Also, when it comes to the motivation behind ever expanding these powers, do you really think that Obama has become drunk with the prospect of power, and that what's driving him to expand the program? I think it's one thing for you and I to armchair quarterback what we'd do as President, but if it was your actions that were largely responsible for the protection of the US, and every day you got all the threat level memos, I think you'd feel a lot of pressure to do more, not less, to try and prevent these types of attacks.

I'm not saying I agree with this, or that it's right, but I am saying that I think you might be underestimating the pressure you or I would be under to try and protect from tangible threats as opposed to protecting a more theoretical philosophy regarding upholding the constitution. I think this reaction is more a function of how we are wired to risk aversion as opposed to a sinister compulsion for power. Granted, there are those who seem to stay true to their convictions in the face of great pressure, history is full of examples - however, I do not think President Obama has those qualities.

BTW - Like how I did that? Defended the President's actions while insulting him as well...

Examinator said...


["Obama's drunk with Power "] What power?
that sounds to me as though you're trying to find someone to blame (a naively simplistic and unrealistic proposition).

If you stop and think about it he has/had little room, if any, to manoeuvre let alone dictate. In real terms POTUS has to get whatever he wants to do through both houses through Congress . He is faced with the additional constraints of a Party machine and the compromises he HAD TO MAKE TO GET THERE. Don't imagine for a moment that POTUS has control over either who does what in the White house or who serves where as his Cabinet he has input but the candidates need to meet with DNC rewards and acceptability. He has to compromise via Confirmation hearings etc. e.g. Why do you think Elizabeth Warren wasn't put into the seat she was most suited for? It never would have passed the above obstacle . Either in the DNC because of seniority party, allegiances or the Congress.... Republican backers would have pressured them to block it, they simply don't want her effectiveness breathing down their necks.

At some point in 'his' deliberations he needs to be realistic about what will satisfy all the interested parties. Some things he simply can't carry Gitmo is one such clear example. he was fighting too many entrenched interests. Neither should you run away with the notion that this is a DNC issue alone.
Consider for a moment the GW government who do you think was pulling the strings? Carlin alluded to by pointing out that most of the Cabinet players etc were in fact re treads from tricky Dickie's. Bush was more of a front man than the absolute decision maker. Keep in mind when he came to power he was a foreign policy joke.

Added to that the plan to invade Iraq was previously presented to the Israelis then Clinton who dismissed it .
Machiavelli wisely said “Politics is the art of the Possible (not the impossible)”.
No doubt you've heard the phrase 'political capital', in relation to how they spend it. In real terms it means some things simply won't get legs though the maze of interests.... some things are such that there is no point in wasting political capital / time on things that will never get through.

Like I keep saying the system is systemically fatally flawed. There is a nonsense argument that if parties were abolished then nothing would get through Congress.... really? Seems that not much is getting through now. The only difference is the identity of the gate keepers. Despite the circus that went on b4 the last election it was never in doubt that Romney was THE GOP establishment candidate that included most of the Donors the whole candidate selection process was full of tokenism and selling Romney to the voters/ other donors.
The DNC has similar pretensions. The POTUS CANDIDATES ARE BRANDS like Newspapers like NYT or WaPo in reality they are selling access to Power by accumulating readers/ voters.
Newspapers are there to sell advertising by collecting reader … the stories are what ever the people want to read not NEED TO KNOW i.e. about Prism and its real world consequences.

Jon said...

Yeah, that's a fair point, Jonathan, regarding the potential of terrorism. Even including the big one though (9-11) it's relatively quite small. So auto accidents kill 50K a year or so. Smoking is 300K per year. All terrorism for the last 12 years is still right around 3,000. We never thought auto accidents or smoking is worth the kind of upside down Constitution ending nonsense that we're putting up with here. In perspective it does look like a non-existent threat.

And when I say powerful people like power I don't actually mean Obama. I agree with your point that it's not about him becoming suddenly drunk with power. We have a system that always produces a President that attempts to consolidate power. It almost doesn't matter who's there. Someone asked Chomsky one time what he'd ask Bush if he had 5 minutes alone with him and his answer was really interesting. He said he seriously doubts the President has much to do with it. In the case of Reagan, he may not have even know what the policies of his administration were. So maybe he'd ask Bush if he'd spoken to God lately. The powerful that are consolidating power are the people that coalesce to shape and control the President. The financial sector in the US is a good example. Almost powerless 30 years ago they managed to accumulate power and look at them now. Above the law. Laundering drug money, crashing economies, destroying lives, breaking laws. They are unconstrained. Obama talked a little tough against them early in his Presidency and they let him know his place. He backed down and hasn't prosecuted a single major player. Those same people were kind of threatened by Occupy Wall St and they want monitoring of every dissent so that they can nip it in the bud and retain their grip.

Obama the candidate sounded much different than Obama the President as everyone knows, and I'm not sure he believed what he said as a candidate or not. I kind of think not, but I don't think it matters. The pressure that exists and he endures to go in one direction or another may bother his conscience or it may not. But whoever the President is, no matter what he says before getting elected, the pressures of the people that want power will be there, and whoever is elected is going to be the kind of person that can endure it and do what he's told. Otherwise he wouldn't have gotten to this position in the first place. It's a systemic problem, which in my view has it's root in capitalism (I know you love such a black and white type statement, but I'm just sharing my opinion).

One point to Ex, while I agree with your overall point that Obama is constrained in what he can do, I wouldn't frame things like Gitmo as if he even wants to see it closed but can't because of the entrenched interests. Yes, he can't do what he might want to do because of the various interests involved, but that also doesn't mean he cares to close Gitmo either. He uses these Republican obstructions as an excuse and all the while he never even once attempted to halt the core injustice, which is indefinite detention without recourse. He talked of moving it to Illinois, but the issue is not the location but the fact that innocent people are held forever with no recourse, no opportunity to defend themselves, violating principles that go back 1000 years to the Magna Charta of habeus corpus.

In the end Obama reacts to whichever set of pressures is greatest. Right now it's corporate pressure. We could compel him to do other things if we could organize and apply pressure as well. That's how they managed to get FDR to do a few things. Otherwise he'd have just done what the rich want as well, and maybe the Depression would still be going on, like it's been going on in Haiti forever.

Jonathan said...

Examinator and Jon,

Regarding Obama's ability to create change, I'm not looking for one person to blame, but if you want to call it naively simplistic, sure - from where you're standing, I'm not surprised you would think of it in those terms. I do think that despite overwhelming corruption and a broken system, black swan moments of sudden and unexpected change can and do happen. I believe that one person can upset the apple cart, if not through their direct actions, through a chain of events.

Take Bin Ladin or Edward Snowden. If a few box cutters and people willing to crash a few planes, or a 29 year old guy without a highschool education can impart a shock to the system with some major ripple effects, are you telling me someone sitting as the President of the United States can't cause real change? What if he would have declassified some of these things, and talked about them on national TV - you don't think that wouldn't have had a strong possibility of leading to some real change?

If you want to believe that POTUS doesn't have the real power or reign in these sorts of things, fine - we can disagree on that. But if a low level IT person working for as a consultant for the NSA can make some serious waves in our culture, how much more could POTUS if he had the conviction?

Call me naive, but I do indeed believe one person, even you or I, could affect major changes in a system, even one as screwed up as our own. The person who says they can never impart change, and the person who says they must impart change are both proven right in the end.

Chad said...

I am not sure I believe fully no threat from terriorism - my guess here is that hundreds of 9/11's have been foiled throughout the years - not talked about in depth as to not scare the hell out of the everyday person is more likely than no threats. It's also one of the few things gov't is supposed to do - protect its citizens from attack/harm.

Examinator said...

Good point about Gitmo. One really can't say what's in his mind nor did I intend to. ( my bad it wasn't clearer)

It wasn't a dig at you personally but if you understood the WAY things are de-Classified.... He does it under advisement from people who he may or may not have any control. Even if he did, the detail would be lacking and as such we'd be no better off. Take the drone issue... he's admitted hat it exists but details? What's to stop you or me being added to the list or the list of ghosts?

As I also said he is tied to the DNC policies. Can you imagine what would happen if he ignored the 'advice' of his party placements in the White house? He'd be facing virtual revolt and a blizzard of Legal issues (gag orders) ,He'd be replaced by the VP likerty split and probable impeached as a latter day "Benny Arnold". Some nutter would see him as a traitor and resort to the US proven tactic of dissent ofr "patriots?" ... Obama would join Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy 1&2!

Of course the Republicans would fan the flames for their own party power. They'd simply bury it again.

An event like this that would fragment the country ... not only along Red V Blue tribes but one shouldn't forget he's black and a strong symbol for hem. Race riots would break out prompting over reaction by the Righties .
Which thinking person with such responsibility would do that to their country? Say what you will about Obama but I can't see him chosing this issue as 'his line in the sand' or being that irresponsible.
Meanwhile Big business would laughing all the way to the bank.

With regard to the latest leaker his leaking wouldn't cause any of that so in that aspect the consequences are going to be less... the choice is simpler.

I doubt that there were hundreds ... more likely at best one or two ...If there had been any substantial saves it would be all over the Press

No one is saying that there is NO risk what Carlin, the below site , Jon ( excuse the liberty) or I is not that there is no risk because there is we are talking about the proportion of risk. Is low....very low
Therefore I ( and Carlin) have argued here http://libprofessor.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/nsa-spying.html the Neocon (pre planned invasion of Iraq) response to 911 was Way-way over the top and equally as unsuccessfully disastrous for everyone except the capitalists. Likewise the money black hole that is Afghanistan.
PS I left you a response on the corporate tax topic too... sorry it took so long.

Jon said...

Chad, I think the goal is to scare the hell out of everybody. That's why they have "Threat Level Orange" and so on. You recall these terrorist plots that are created by the FBI. They go to a mosque or wherever and try to recruit people to go along, they provide fake explosives and all that, then they rush in and pretend they saved us? It's such a remote threat that they have to concoct their own plots. We've had people from mosques reporting to the FBI suspected activity, only to find out that the person they suspected was an FBI agent attempting to recruit people. This is a non-threat kind of like a lightning strike is a non threat. Sure, things will happen sometimes, as they have throughout history, but there's nothing to panic about at this point.

Jonathan said...


A few months back, my views were probably more inline where yours are now. The prospect of the government knowing various things about me really didn't bother me because I don't really have anything to hide so it should be a non-issue. However, as I've found out more about the trajectory of the actual level of privacy I actually have over the last decade, what can be done with this information, and the past track record the government has in abusing this info, my view has changed substantially. If the government had a clean track record of judicious use of a precise tool which protected our security without being overly invasive to our privacy (whatever that means) then that's one thing. But if they have a track record of high levels of abuse, and have ever expanding powers, for me that's a problem.

Take for instance, privacy pre 9/11 vs post 9/11. Pre 9/11, it seems that folks had a reasonable assumption that our phone conversations weren't being tracked. Ok, now after 9/11, maybe if I get a phone conversation from a foreign country, or say a country with known terrorists, ok fine, maybe that might show up on the government radar. However, the government then moved to be able to get access to two people calling from within the US. But you'd need a warrant. No wait, we're going to remove the requirement for a warrant, but at least we know that the government is going to have to go to the phone carrier and ask for that information specifically, and there would be some pushback.

That's where folks thought we were as of a few weeks ago - we didn't like it, but the phone carriers would at least be in the loop. Now it turns out that the NSA has tapped right into the phone companies systems, and they can get this information directly for themselves. So where's the pushback? The checks and balances?

Oh, but not to worry, because yeah, now the government admits they are collecting phone information on Verizon customers (and probably the others?) wholesale on all calls, including US to US, but it's just metadata. They're not actively listening in. Your data is buried in all the noise and is looked at collectively.

But consider the power of metadata. Turns out you can do a whole lot with metadata, and there's all sorts of neat algorithms you can use to find out all sorts of interesting things on people. One article I read used the example of searching metadata for all married men making phone calls between 2am and 4am to someone of the opposite sex who was not their spouse. Now we have a list of suspected cheaters without listening to a second of actual phone conversations. Remember how the FBI tried to bring down MLK with proof of cheating? That's one set of data on one person. Seems to me you could dig up dirt on everyone on a given group (Tea party affiliates?) with 1 or two simple querys of metadata.

And these actual phone conversations - how do you get access? You go to the FISA court. A court where the government has a representative and requests for information, but there is no one in defense of the plaintiff. They reject less than 1% of requests. And those that are rejected there's an appeals process, so the government has another shot at it.

And that's not the only way you can get wiretapped - evidentially the protections are not in place to prevent unauthorized access from lower level technicians. The NSA is not some well oiled machine - it's bloated and disorganized just like all the other government agencies, with people with the ability to get unauthorized access to these hugely invasive projects like PRISM.

I could go on, but I don't want to turn this into a rambling post. My thoughts are not yet fully formed on this, and I haven't been keeping a close eye on this topic lately, or for that long. Just some thoughts off the top of my head on some things I've heard and read lately...


Examinator said...

Excellently Put Jon and Jonathan.
What no comment about the international impact?
Or the causes of the terrorism in the first place?
NB I'm NOT saying the 1% are in some sort of conspiracy rather it's like the cumulative effect of the individual players (ab)using their disproportionate power and the subsequent justification for the amoral or myopic focus.

Examinator said...

here are a few articles that illustrate the international perspective

if you think about the subtext of the German concerns are is the NSA spying on the German government?

Also note the way commerce has integrated it's self (unfairly/inappropriately) in unrelated issues

Jonathan said...

Interesting Obama survey (CNN poll) I just ran across. 8 Point approval rating drop, more people distrust him now than trust him for the first time in his presidency.

But what I found interesting was this little nugget:

page 8 -

Do you think the Obama administration has gone too far, has been about right, or has not gone far enough in restricting people's civil liberties in order to fight terrorism?

Obama - 43% Too Far

George Bush Oct 2006 - 39% Too Far

Maybe Bush's number went up after this, but this was the last (and highest) data point listed in the article. Just after 9/11 this was around 10% and then gradually rose to 39% in 2006. Just found that interesting...


Jonathan said...

I was wondering what the breakdown between republicans and democrats on Snowden was, and here's some interesting statistics...


Examinator said...

Get a load of this