book jacket on the Panopticon

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald

book jacket no place to hideNo place to hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S, surveillance State by Glenn Greenwald (2014)
The author is the kind of investigative reporter I would like to be in my next life. That or Sinclair Lewis or other muckrakers who called out the bad things people will do if they think they can get away with it, and not have any remorse for their bad deeds. Kind of the attitude of if you didn’t want your house robbed, you should have (a) had better locks, (b) had a watch dog, (c) hired house sitter with a gun, (d) had bars on the windows, (e) insert any victim blaming you prefer here.

Somehow, it is always the individual failure and their trust that someone would simply not burgle or rob their house because stealing is wrong.

I don’t think Snowden is a “thief” who stole government information; warrantless wire tapping is theft of privacy, of the right to due process, of the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty. Whistleblowers are heroes. They are a serious threat to authority and therefore authority will crush whistleblowers whenever possible, whistleblower protection laws are illusory.

Anyone who dares to speak up against abuse of authority is risking everything in every possible way, and generally do not come out for their personal benefit, quite the reverse. One must have very strong ideals to make such a commitment. Because the smear campaign, and cries of traitor and similar such crap has been going on for decades.

I remember Vietnam. I remember the Pentagon Papers. I remember Watergate. I learned about McCarthyism to my horror. I watched the Supreme Court anoint George W. Bush president and now am full of sorrow at the death and destruction he and his co-conspirators have wrought. We have had Iran-Contra, but Ronnie is still a saint. Oliver North is on TV. Cheney is still mouthing off and not in jail. Obama didn’t jail the banksters. Bill Clinton reduced the numbers of poor people (mostly women) on welfare by making it workfare, and the reduction was not a reduction in need, it was a reduction in eligibility.

The more history I read the more distressed I am that the country I thought I lived in is an illusion. The 2016 presidential election and the treatment of Bernie Sanders and the general madness of God-told-me-to run multiple candidates on the Republican side is terrifying. The persistent and inadequate response to domestic terrorism of Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities is a nightmare and nothing whatsoever is done to stop it. Hell, even presidential candidates and our Congress and the Catholic men on the Supreme Court want to stop abortion. States have managed to make it very difficult — the very definition of undue burden — for women in some states to implement their constitutional right to abortion. The obsession to defund Planned Parenthood, not to pay for poor women’s care (Hyde, Helms), and not allow women basic freedom from forced birth — while simultaneously shaming and castigating women who cannot afford to care for a(nother) child, or a defective fetus, or a rapist’s spawn, or the product of incest. But does NSA work to stop the deliberate acts by governmental legislatures to prevent the passing illegal laws or prosecute the hypocritical politicians committing serial adultery and other scandalous and criminal behaviors? No, because if they did, Cheney and Rumsfeld, and Bush and the Banksters would all be in prison.

No, they would rather put a kid with a joint in prison, it is just so much easier. Then there is the added benefit of going after people of color since that means you reduce the number of Democratic voters and that’s a plus for the Republicans. However, now the Democratic Party is the old Republican Party and the Republican Party is the party of the Authoritarian Theocrats, they have made it okay to be a bigot, racist, misogynist, and hateful again, while making sure that there are enough guns for every man, woman, and child in the country, and probably more. The disgusting sight of a good old white boy shopping in Wal-Mart with an assault rifle slung over his back is acceptable but an unarmed black man is shot dead for being black.

We need more whistleblowers and a lot fewer greedy power-mad bible-thumpers who see fit to judge everyone but their own kind whose madness terrifies the rest of us into silence. Support Planned Parenthood and you can expect death threats and actual death. These nutters are not the ones the NSA and their kind spy on; no, it is the regular person who just wants a living wage and simple fair play and social justice.

Attributing dissent to personality disorders is hardly an American invention. Soviet dissidents were routinely institutionalized in psychological hospitals, and Chinese dissidents are still often forcibly treated for mental illness. There are obvious reasons for launching personal attacks on CRITICS OF THE STATUS QUO. As noted, one is to render the critic less effective: few people want to align themselves with someone crazy or weird. Another is deterrence: when dissidents are cast out of society and demeaned as emotionally imbalanced, others are given a strong incentive not to become one.  (p. 227)

I have often wondered, given the torture and neglect of political prisoners, for example, why they aren’t just killed outright? The authorities that can imprison anyone for any bogus reason surely risk too much keeping prisoners alive, like Nelson Mandela. I find it hard to believe that one person, however notable, cannot be disappeared like in South America, with everyone too cowed and enslaved to make a peep. Of course, with The Donald in charge, there will be no rule of law, so I guess we will find out what life was like for the people in the Gulags, or the disappeared, or placed in internment camps like innocent Japanese-American citizens. The Republicans and the trash that support them already are dismayed that they can’t send an avowed Socialist Democratic to the electric chair because they are incapable of distinguishing between Denmark and Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mussolini’s Italy.

But the key motive is logical necessity. For guardians of the STATUS QUO, there is nothing genuinely or FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG with the prevailing order and its dominant institutions, which are viewed as just. [NOT BY ME!!!!] Therefore, anyone claiming otherwise — especially someone sufficiently motivated by that belief to take radical action — must, by definition, be emotionally unstable and psychologically disabled.

Put another way, there are, broadly speaking, two choices: OBEDIENCE to institutional authority or RADICAL DISSENT from it. The first is a sane and valid choice only if the second is crazy and ILLEGITIMATE. For defenders of the status quo, mere correlation between mental illness and radical opposition to the prevailing orthodoxy is insufficient. Radical dissent is evidence, even proof, of a servere personality disorder.

At the heart of this formulation is an essential deceit: that dissent from institutional AUTHORITY involves a moral or ideological choice, while OBEDIENCE does not. With that false premise in place, society pays great attention to the MOTIVES of dissenters, but none to those who SUBMIT to our institutions, either by ensuring that their actions remain concealed or by using other means. OBEDIENCE to authority is implicitly deemed a NATURAL state.

In fact, both observing and breaking the rules involve moral choices, and both courses of action reveal something important about the individual involved. Contrary to the accepted premise — that radical dissent demonstrates a personality disorder — the opposite could be [and is!!!!] true: in the face of severe injustice, a refusal to dissent is the sign of a character flaw or a moral failure. (p. 227-228)

For example, slavery. Forced birth. Unequal pay. Forced sterilization. Medical experimentation without consent. Being told to lie directly or indirectly, by omission, rather than reveal facts of crimes and malfeasance. There are so many aspects of authoritarian power holders that feel they are above the law, they are too numerous to mention them all, but think Enron, the Savings and Loan Scandal, the 2008 credit default swaps leveraged at 30 to 1 and then insured and bailed out with the bad actors getting multi-million dollar bonuses for a job well done!

Not well done to everyone who had their home foreclosed on, sometimes in error and without the legal paperwork. But the powers that be do not guarantee you a right to a lawyer in a CIVIL case, only criminal, and not even then sometimes (budget cuts you know). So ordinary people who live paycheck to paycheck are robbed outright, but there is no PROTECTIVE authority looking out for them as a part of the government. Well, at least, not until recently with Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Protection Bureau — but that is the exception that proves the rule and it is not out of the woods yet. The Republicans will continue to attack it via budget cuts and other more insidious methods so that their puppet masters get what they paid for, profit protection.

Moreover, the Democrats, it turns out, are just as bad, just managed to get less press coverage about their misbehavior. The annoying thing is that the politicians sell themselves so cheap: $90,000 campaign contributions? Drop in the bucket. But I guess it is a start and then there is always the better paying lobbying gig afterwards (unless you die in office after decades of gerrymandered districts and vicious smear campaigns against your rivals).

This reflexive demonization of whistle-blowers is one way that the establishment media in the United States protects the interests of those who WIELD POWER. So PROFOUND is this subservience that many of the rules of journalism are crafted, or at least applied, so as to promote the government’s message.

Take, for instance, the notion that leaking classified information is some sort of malicious or criminal act. In fact, the Washington Journalists who applied that view to Snowden or to me do not deplore ALL disclosures of secret information, only those disclosures that displease or undermine the government.

The reality is that Washington is always drowning in leaks. (228-229)

I remember Valerie Plane, and the whole W administration technique of leaking to Judith Miller so that Cheney can go on Sunday Morning TV and report the leak as if it were a leak instead of media manipulation by the White House. More recently, Hillary Clinton’s “carelessness” with classified documents on her private server mixing business with personal data, for which no criminal charges will be filed. To continue the paragraph started above:

The most celebrated and revered DC reporters, such as Bob Woodward, have secured their position by routinely receiving classified information from high-level sources and then publishing it. Obama officials have repeatedly gone to the New York Times to dish out classified information about topics like drone killings and Osama bin Laden’s assassination. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and CIA officials fed secret information to the director of ZERO DARK THIRTY, hoping the film would trumpet Obama’s greatest political triumph. (At the same time Justice Department lawyers told federal courts that, to protect national security, they could not release information about the bin Laden raid.

No establishment journalist would propose prosecution for any of the officials responsible for those leaks or for the reporters who received and then wrote about them. They would laugh at the suggestion that Bob Woodward, who has been spilling top secrets for years, and his high-level government sources are criminals.

That is because those leaks are sanctioned by Washington and serve the interests of the US Government, and are thus considered appropriate and acceptable. The only leaks that the Washington media condemns are those that contain information officials would prefer to hide. (p. 228-229)

When I listen to the “news” today, it smells more of propaganda that actual news. We don’t get to know anything that is actually significant. Especially since it has been all blowhard all the time. We don’t get a daily digest of Congressional Activities at 6:00 p.m. to know what amendment was slipped in to a completely unrelated “must pass” legislation that will directly adversely effect, say the cleanliness of our water supply [Halliburton aka Dick Cheney, was exempted from compliance]. We don’t get a daily rundown of the cases being heard by topic before district courts that might directly have bearing on our own lives. Thanks to TV, Miranda rights are now pretty well known, but a whole lot more stuff has been decided — or when Scalia was on the court, revoked — that would be applicable to our most intimate lives. It is the JOB of the press to investigate and challenge authority.

The idea of a “fourth estate” is that those who exercise the greatest power need to be challenged by adversarial pushback and an insistence on transparency; the job of the press is to disprove the falsehoods that power invariably disseminates to protect itself. Without that type of journalism, abuse is inevitable. Nobody needed the US Constitution to guarantee press freedom so that journalists could befriend, amplify, and glorify political leaders; the guarantee was necessary so that journalists could do the opposite. (p. 230)

Indeed, Fox/Faux news is not news at all, but merely a public relations arm of Republican’s talking points and lies, and obfuscations. In addition since we are now down from at least 50 major news organizations to 6 owned by a few billionaires that are principally Republicans because, hey, why would they want to have to pay a fair share of taxes or living wages to employees?

The double standard applied to publishing classified information is even more pronounced when it comes to the unwritten requirement of “journalistic objectivity.” It was the supposed violation of this rule that made me an “activist” rather than a “journalist.” As we are told endlessly, journalists do not express opinions; they simply report the facts.

This is an obvious pretense, a conceit of the profession. The perceptions and pronouncements of human beings are inherently subjective. Every news article is the product of all sorts of highly subjective cultural, nationalistic, and political assumptions. And all journalism serves one faction’s interest or another’s.

The relevant distinction is not between journalist who have opinions and those who have none, a category that does not exist. It is between journalist who candidly reveal their opinions and those who conceal them, pretending they have none.

The very idea that reporters should be free of opinions is far from some time-honored requirement of the profession; in fact, it is a relatively new concoction that has the effect, if not the intent, to neuter journalism. (pp. 230-231)

That is why I love The Young Turks video broadcasts via the Internet. These are people who have opinions and are damn proud of them, and they have the data to back up their conclusions.

This recent American view reflects, as Jack Shafer, Reuter’s media columnist, observed, a “sad devotion to the corporatist ideal of what journalism” should be, as well as “a painful lack of historical understanding.” From the United States founding, the best and most consequential journalism frequently involved crusading reporters, advocacy, and devotion to battling injustice. The opinion-less, color-less, soul-less template of corporate journalism has drained the practice of its most worthy attributes, rendering establishment media inconsequential: a threat to nobody powerful, exactly as intended.

But aside from the inherent fallacy of objective reporting, the rule is almost never consistently applied by those who claim to believe it. Establishment journalists constantly express their opinions on a whole range of controversial issues without being denied their professional status. But if the opinions they offer are sanctioned by Washington officialdom, they are thus perceived as legitimate. (p. 231)

He goes on for an excellent discussion about “objectivity” stating that it “means nothing more than reflecting the biases and serving the interests of entrenched Washington. Opinions are problematic only when they deviate from the acceptable range of Washington orthodoxy.” (p, 232)

But far and away, the most significant reason for the hostility was the establishment media figures have accepted the rule of dutiful spokespeople for political officials, especially where national security is concerned. It follows, then that like the officials themselves, they are CONTEMPTUOUS of those who challenge or undermine Washington’s centers of power. (p. 232)

This aspect of the current state of journalism and reporting has been troubling me for a long time. I had just not paid enough attention as to when things changed and why. The whole Watergate thing had seared in my mind that that was what ALL journalists and media did. Then came Faux news and somehow it was acceptable to say outright lies and do so with immunity. Even C-SPAN’s BOOK-TV is not immune. I was disgusted to catch a part of an interview with Steve Forbes about his new book, and he sat there and lied outright. The interviewer did not call him on it or present some alternate point of view. Just let the lies stand and move on to some more. No additional context was provided for people to know that this man was a rich businessman who had no interest in American ideals beyond unregulated profit makings on the backs of labor as if by divine right of money = power = doing and saying anything he wants.

I have not dwelled much on the actual Snowden activities, which I believe are covered in another book by this author in detail. The part that interests me is the divisive ideal I had of the point of investigative journalism and how it has been suppressed by the authorities. George Orwell’s 1984 is my favorite book and I have done a lot of reading about surveillance and the panopticon.

. . . if you can never evade the watchful eyes of a supreme authority, there is no choice but to follow the dictates that authority imposes. You cannot even consider forging your own path beyond those rules: if you believe you are always being watched and judged [and found wanting] you are not really a free individual.

All oppressive authorities — political, religious, societal, parental — rely on this vital truth, using it as a principal tool to ENFORCE orthodoxies, COMPEL ADHERENCE, and QUASH DISSENT. It is in their interest to convey that nothing their subjects will do will escape the knowledge of the authorities. Far more effectively than a police force, the deprivation of privacy will CRUSH any effort to deviate from rules and norms. (p. 173)

My little joke is that my epitaph should read “QUESTION AUTHORITY” and it stems I believe from my constant conflict with sexism even as a child. The freaking god-awful dresses my mother  made me wear. If she liked it, I hated it, and vice versa, and as an artist (art major) I like to think that I was actually objectively correct and she was simply entranced with shiny things and impractical ruffles. Gag.

Finally when high school “let” we girls wear pants, I lived in jeans and a blue workshirt for the next few years. Screw makeup. Screw hairspray (OZONE LAYER, HELLO!). I was constantly being told things I couldn’t do because I was female — not allowed to take woodworking, which as all my friends know still is a bitter sore spot today. I had so been looking forward to it and then to be told that because I was girl, it wasn’t allowed, and instead I had to take “Home Ec” where they taught you how to wash dishes for pity’s sake. IN FUCKING SCHOOL, for a GRADE.

Sewing was a little more fun, but beyond useless with no pattern drafting or couture techniques. My mother would only let me buy hideous and cheap fabrics and it was a trial to use them. Of course there may not have been decent cloth to be had either, as is the case today everywhere except NYC, SF, or LA.  The worst of it was, my grandmother could sew dresses from scratch including pattern-making, just by looking at pictures in catalogs. I did not know this. I only knew my mother hated sewing. So between the cheap cloth, inadequate teaching, I did not take it up again until years later when I could buy fabric I loved (NYC), the Vogue patterns that had some style, and it turned out to be both a pleasure and a pain because of my inadequate exposure. Now of course, I am a huge fan of Project Runway!

Then there was the initial attempt to deny me from taking architectural drafting because I was female. Fortunately, by this time, I think it was Title IX or X that went through and the school could not deny me access to the class, so I was one of the first females allowed take architectural and mechanical drafting. I think it was okay, I don’t recall being teased or anything like that. But too often there was just a constant stream of “you can’t do that” and I just refused to accept such dictates as best I could, arguing well and sensible, that being a “girl” was simply not an adequate justification for denying me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do. THIS DENIAL WAS NOT THAT LONG AGO! 1970!!! Imagine that! A modern world that denied aspects of education because of gender! Just a little more than only 30 years ago!

I think I shall go back and do a legislative history of my life. The birth control pill was a HUGE life changing benefit; I will fight to the ends of the earth to make sure girls and women have that right. Similarly, I was on the cusp of the illegal deadly abortions transitioning to legal, safe abortions that directly had an impact on so many women and girls and that is why, again, I will defy any authority that tries to deny that right and return us to the dark ages.

Girls were not allowed to wear pants in school, despite it being -30 degrees in the winter with the wind chill and so much snow the buses couldn’t make it up the hill. Then in classes, the too many male teachers in their full suits kept the thermostats low even though we girls were required to wear flimsy dresses and bare legs. Now I ask you, is that not one of the most stupid things ever? I regret to this day that I did not simply wear pants and get kicked out of school for doing so, but my parents were “don’t rock the boat” types and really did not understand how infuriating I found these absurd “rules” that made no sense at all.

And so it has continued through my life in every possible minor or major way possible. Authority making capricious and arbitrary rules without justification and being told to shut up and just obey. For awhile I tried, but I just couldn’t stand stupidity and let everyone know it. This did not endear me to my “superiors” and the worst part would be that I was usually proven to have been right all along.

. . . it is in that realm of privacy where creativity, dissent, and challenges to orthodoxy germinate. A society in which everyone knows they can be watched by the state — where the private realm is effectively eliminated — is one in which those attributes are lost, at both the societal and the individual level.

Mass surveillance by the state is therefore inherently repressive, even in the unlikely case that it is not abused by vindictive officials to do things like gain private information about political opponents. Regardless of how surveillance is used or abused, the limits it imposes on freedom are intrinsic to its existence.

Invoking George Orwell’s 1984 is something of a cliche, but the echos of the world about which he warned in the NSA’s surveillance state are unmistakable: both rely on the existence of a technological system with the capacity to monitor every citizen’s actions and words. The similarity is denied by the surveillance champions — we’re not always being watched, they say — but that argument misses the point. In 1984, citizen were not necessarily monitored at all times; in fact they had no idea whether they were ever actually being monitored. But the state had the capability to watch them at any time. It was the book jacket title and painting of flameuncertainty and possibility of ubiquitous surveillance that served to keep everyone in line. (p. 174)

This leads us to the famous Jeremy Bentham’s “eighteenth-century conception of the Panopticon,” a building design he believed would allow institutions to effectively control human behavior. It also reminds me a little bit of the famous Ray Bradbury story Fahrenheit 451, a classic dystopia of particular dread for book lovers like myself.

The first half of the book or so has more details about how the author came to be the contact for Snowden and how the whole thing came about. And it is interesting. The part that I found most engaging was what I quoted above about the surveillance state: what it means and the impact it has on people’s lives. Too many times have I seen and read about gross miscarriages of justice because someone writes p, say in a blog, that gets the surveillance state all in a tizzy when in fact, the comment was sarcastic or  a metaphor, or some similar goofing around kind of things. Too many TV shows where the wrong phrasing or back talk to authority gets you very quickly in a horrible situation and limited means to get out of the situation, even one that is arbitrary and pointless.

The major problems with the excesses of authority today have been the recent murders of black men for being black. Whether the incidents are getting more publicity today, are being less squelched by the press, or what exactly has lead us here, it is getting very very bad out there and that, I believe, is only going to result in more and more surveillance and bad decisions by the stupid men on the Supreme Court (Terry v Ohio, 1968) decided that stop and frisk was legal if “officers have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has or is about to be committed.” The way it was implemented was NOT constitutional; they targeted blacks and Hispanics without cause.

We really have to impeach the bastards, but I don’t think we the people can do it, I think only congress (the House) can do it, and as long as those seats are held by decades old professional politicians who hold sold their souls to the devil, we will simply go from bad to worse, and I fear that the worse will come in my lifetime and that makes me very sad. These bastards are why we can’t have nice things like single payer or any fundamental social justice anymore. The NRA is making damn sure we can kill and be killed, even by toddlers, as well as jumpy cops, and crazed psychos. Someone is always watching you and they are probably armed and dangerous. It does wonders for a takeover by fascist authoritarian theocratic dictatorship in our Congress and possibly the presidency. People are being pushed too hard for too little and have little left to lose. We can’t even trust the government not to poison our water or sell it off to global multinationals.

I remember in 1984 that Winston could not have a private conversation because the television always on and it transmitted as well as received. In the last year, there has been news about smart TV screens that are capable of turning on to watch you in your home without your knowledge. Sure, you can assume it is for porn, or criminal activity, but it could also be intentional as part of a new panopticon.


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