Quote of the day

John Kerry, a crude opportunist by trade and need, recently dismissed Edward Snowden’s manhood — his virtù, to use the sense of the word given to it by Niccolò Machiavelli. David Lindorff rightly took issue with Kerry’s denunciation of Snowden. He concluded thusly:

Kerry has no right to question anyone’s “manhood.”

Having John Kerry tell someone like Snowden to “man up” is the moral equivalent of Richard Nixon telling someone to follow his conscience or Bernie Madoff telling a homeless beggar to get an honest job.

Snowden would have to be crazy or a masochist to come back to the US and submit his fate to the “American justice system” touted by Secretary Kerry.

Without a doubt, Edward Snowden in his person and actions more concisely expresses the sense Machiavelli gave to this term than Kerry ever had, even if we include the Kerry who opposed the Vietnam War. Machiavelli would have praised Snowden’s ferocity and bravery, his tactical and strategic senses and even his patriotism. He would have appreciated Snowden’s audacious project, one which originated in his stated hope to help put an end to America’s emerging tyranny. He would have considered Snowden a fellow republican. On the other hand, Machiavelli would have judged Kerry to be a faithless mercenary, and a source of corruption.

Chomsky on state power, domestic surveillance and ‘national’ security

Writing for In These Times, Noam Chomsky offered the following observations about the kind of security sought by the security-surveillance state:

In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Snowden elaborated that “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”

The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.

The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined — severely so, as officials assert.

There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.

A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

“This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials. There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness — namely, security of state power from exposure.

The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

Indeed, power does decay when made public, and we may recall here that Huntington was a leading figure of the excess of democracy movement (1970s) which sought to rehabilitate and secure state authority after federal institutions had weathered poorly the many political crises of the 1960s. American democracy was thought to be a burden for those governing America, according to these analysts. The governors could not govern if the governed refused to affirm governmental power. Today, on the other hand, the ‘excesses’ of an energetic civil society do not trouble much America’s national political institutions. The latest crisis of American democracy has another cause:

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

With trust goes authority. When trust is lacking, when citizens no longer believe their representatives, the wielders of power necessarily find themselves placed on a slippery slope with illegitimacy sitting at the bottom of the plane. If the American democracy is now in crisis, this crisis would have little or nothing to do with democratization efforts originating from below. The crisis is not a by-product of the Tea Party or Occupy movements. Nor has it issued from anti-system tendencies within the duopoly parties or from an emerging anti-system party the existence of which effectively threatens the American political system as such. Rather, the crisis originates instead in the anti-democratic qualities which now define governmental institutions in the United States, qualities which elicit mistrust in the governed. The federal government is neither responsive nor responsible, neither accountable nor transparent. Its failures are many, sometimes obvious and often painful for its citizens as well as for others subject to its operations. It has earned the mistrust it enjoys, for it is more akin to an automaton than a place where citizens gather in order to govern themselves.

updated 3.11.2014

Glenn Greenwald and Peter King respond to Obama’s NSA ‘Reforms’

Quote of the day

This is just a part of Norman Pollack’s apt assessment of Edward Snowden‘s impact on American politics:

One person can make a difference in the affairs of state. 21st century political civilization has become habituated to international relations as the province of mega-units in something akin to an uneasy, disturbed condition of equipoise, in which underlying structural-economic-ideological forces, prone to confrontation, have become artificially muted: a surface of politesse, seething beneath, intended to disguise national strivings for power….In this setting, individuals, until very recently, did not appear to matter, at least those excluded from positions of power—the vast majority of humankind, for whom the role of passivity coincided with the rise of mass, centrally directed technologies and organization, foreordained in practice to dwarf individual identity and sense of actuation in shaping their lives.

Massive and socially complex institutions dwarf the persons subject to them. They make real the boast, “There is no alternative.” Yet,

[a]n individual, alone, powerless at the outset, has spoken out, and doing so, has shaken the foundations of power. This, more than a high point in the record of whistle-blowers, though intimately related to it, marks an epochal moment in the history of American freedom — or the search for it! It mustn’t be allowed to slip by as a result of the chorus of denunciation, from POTUS on down through all the usual suspects, Democrats and Republicans alike. Snowden has raised privacy into the pantheon of constitutional rights it deserves to be, as the index of societal health and individual personhood — something all the nefarious interventions, drone strikes, CIA-JSOC missions of subversion, indefinite detentions, have sought to obliterate from the popular consciousness, and until now, partially succeeded in doing.

SURVEILLANCE is not accidental strategy, but rather the cutting edge of individuals’ self-pacification, a well-tested mechanism of social control. One hesitates to speak, then even to think; one chooses one’s associates warily, lest found on someone’s list, the all-pervasive fear of being watched, dissected, analyzed by the prying eyes of the State, now a government-empowered and -legitimated National Security Agency (and multiple other intelligence agencies, along with such legislative onslaughts as TALON, CIFA, TIAP, and don’t forget MATRIX, Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, some of which going even too far for Congress’s reactionary taste), fully capable of spying on and retrieving the most intimate conversations between people hitherto unsuspecting of eavesdropping.

Political rot pervades the land. Our leaders are vicious. They care not one bit for justice or the good. What we need is fresh air”

Snowden blows to smithereens the pious claims of American Exceptionalism, a city on the hill made up of political demagogues, snoopers, voyeurs, mercenaries, and the scavengers in our midst, supercomputers to the ready, armed with preconceived notions of enemies lurking in the dark, a wholesale assemblage of vile operatives who are cloaked in the Flag, seemingly unassailable — until one person came along to reveal the public garbage masking itself as national security….The nation, whether it knows it or not, is indebted to Snowden’s bravery and moral conscience.