Posts Tagged ‘US’
The Martial Lord of Wei asked one of his ministers what had caused the destruction of a certain nation-state. The minister said, “Repeated victories in repeated wars.”
The Martial Lord said, “A nation is fortunate to win repeated victories in repeated wars. Why would that cause its destruction?”
The minister said, “Where there are repeated wars, the people are weakened; when they score repeated victories, rulers become haughty. Let haughty rulers command weakened people, and rare is the nation that will not perish as a result.”
— Masters of Huainan (ca. 200 BCE)
What Just Happened?
Although many American voters feel alarmed and disoriented by Donald Trump’s rise to power, this is nevertheless the direct, causal result of millions of Americans pretending that Democrats are an opposition party over the last 30 years. Unfortunately, for these naive souls, the real difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans are delusional while Democrats are in denial.
At present, Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats are blaming Russia for manipulating the election, which is pure propaganda. Russia probably manipulates every election. Russia, China, and others probably do too — just like we routinely interfere with theirs.
The real issue is both more nuanced and more troubling. In Wisconsin, for example, less than 1% of the vote separated Clinton from Trump. For comparison, in Florida after the 2000 election, a similarly narrow result triggered a recount by statute.
When one looks at what factors constitute that 1% of the vote in Wisconsin, however, the role of Russian involvement is not the decisive factor (though it may be a bit of a wildcard). Rather, a number of pervasive influences within American society amount to a far more profound influence:
2) Systematic disenfranchisement through Voter ID laws (coordinated among statehouses through think tanks like ALEC)
3) Closed-source electronic voting machines with proprietary code that behave anomalously but can’t be audited
5) Campaign strategies that game the electoral college (Clinton won the 2016 popular vote, just like Gore won the 2000 popular vote against Bush)
6) Citizens United Supreme Court ruling overturning campaign finance reform, opening a floodgate of un-traceable political manipulation
Of course, Barack Obama — in blaming Russia — cannot call attention to these issues, because it undermines the validity of the very system from which he derives his power, influence, prestige, identity.
This was the same reason Al Gore couldn’t call for protests in the street after the 2000 election: he’s part of the system and therefore needs to help preserve it. So now, instead of solutions, we get propaganda from the left in addition to the right.
What Does it Mean?
1. Development of the ideology
2. Ideology takes root
3. Ideology gains power
4. Ideology exercises power
5. Open society overtaken by entropy or becomes a police state
In Paxton’s analysis, the proto-fascist disillusionment with popular democracy begins in the rural around a rhetoric of renewal. The Greek Golden Dawn party, with seats amounting to about 10% of the European parliament, holds the phoenix as the emblem of their movement.
Popular with past Greek fascist movements, the symbol of the phoenix — which rises reborn from its own ashes — resonates with Trump’s promise to “make america great again.”
After a fascist ideology takes hold, traditional conservative elite adopt the rhetoric of the rural brownshirts to stave off a resurgent progressive movement. Which is to say: Hitler used the brownshirts but did not create them, just like the Republican Tea Party took advantage of American right wing militants.
Once the traditional conservatives regain power, the brownshirts become emboldened to act. This historically has often taken the form of attacks on farmers. It may seem appealing to suppose — given the current state of race relations in the United States and the animosity suffered between rural and urban areas — that a modern equivalent of this step may consist in right wing militants squaring off with disaffected black inner-city youth (who figure they have nothing to lose, since they’ll be dead or in jail by the time they’re 20 years old). However, for all the problems with policing, it is unlikely that many police would sit by idly while white militants pick off black folks indiscriminately. Moreover, rural folks are often afraid of the city, making such a scenario less likely.
While the rural folks are afraid of the city, however, they’re not afraid of Mexican migrant farmers with no rights. They’ll be the canary in the coal mine, or the sacrificial lamb, for the same reason a john beats up a hooker: she can’t take it to the cops.
Once the traditional conservative elements try to restore order in the face of quasi-sanctioned vigilantism, two general outcomes typically result: entropy, or a police state.
The panopticon principle makes it pretty clear that surveillance is not some passive proposition, but an active system of control. If you CAN be monitored at any time, but NEVER know exactly when, it is in your interest to behave at ALL times as though you ARE being monitored.
Foucault summarized Bentham’s insight:
“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power…
“So… that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.”
— Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 1975
The surveillance society depicted in George Orwell’s novel 1984 is built along these precise lines:
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”
“You had to live–did live, from habit that became instinct–in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
— George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
The social deviance of 1984’s protagonist Winston Smith is eventually arrested through police entrapment, not through the efficacy of the surveillance infrastructure. Smith wanders into a forbidden part of town and rents a room from an undercover cop to use as a love nest.
In our world, these forces are already being brought to bear on the American population. What’s needed first is a sober recognition of these realities.
Those who would organize an opposition should not do so over social media. Use of the element of surprise is a rudimentary component of any strategy — which would-be organizers surrender without fight when organizing on a wiretap.
Those who would organize an opposition should not report their activities on social media. The types of information gained through the elaborate system of hundreds of thousands of spies and informers utilized by the East German state is routinely handed over voluntarily today on FaceBook. The East German state maintain control by exploiting personal information, and our system is not likely to be much different.
Cellphones are tracking devices. Even with GPS off, they are in constant communication with cell towers. The slight time differential between when a phone’s signal is picked up ad multiple nearby towers can be used to precisely locate any such mobile device.
The walls have ears. Cellphones speak and understand English now. Past movements — the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement — succeeded without social media. An opposition movement that has any chance of success today will be no different in that regard.
There’s no Internet without surveillance. The Internet was built by the US military to be robust, not for privacy or security. Privacy was not part of the Internet’s design goals.
The Internet became a commonplace household word in part because of the hype surrounding an economic bubble created during the presidency of Bill Clinton. Under Bill Clinton, the US Congress also enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act at the same time that Windows 95 introduced Americans to personal computers and the phrase “information superhighway” introduced Americans to networking. Surveillance was an integral part of handing the Internet over to commerce.
The relationship between commerce and the surveillance state is now well-established: Apple and Microsoft are suspect, and Yahoo has made surveillance a business proposition — as per 18 U.S.C. § 2706, Yahoo’s 2009 rates ran as follows:
Basic subscriber records cost $20 for the first ID, $10 per ID thereafter; basic group Information (including information about moderators) cost $20 for a group with a single moderator; contents of subscriber accounts — including email — cost $30-$40 per user; contents of groups cost $40 – $80 per group.
Given that typical internet advertising revenue brings in only pennies per click, the current scale of Internet surveillance clearly implies that spying on customers is big business for online firms.
Other telecommunications carriers have made similar overtures, some companies have faced legal and economic reprisal for refusing to cooperate, and yet others have availed themselves of their free speech rights as corporate persons to engage in this dubious commerce.
It should be reason enough to be disturbed by NSA surveillance that the Founders prohibited this type of information gathering in the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. The excuse “I’ve got nothing to hide” misses the point. The government should obey the law, that’s a core feature of what “rule of law” means. And the example of non-violent resistance through non-participation set by Ghandi and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and vegetarians and vegans offers a clear a lesson for how to resist the surveillance society: stop participating in an abusive system. The Internet is cruelty to human animals and it’s bad for the social environment.
If it weren’t for so many Americans purchasing data plans on “smart” phones, purchasing home Internet access, and dutifully reporting their daily thoughts and habits psychological makeup on FaceBook accounts, the costs to Uncle Sam for maintaining the current surveillance state would very rapidly prove prohibitive. That is, if the government had to pay your phone bill and your internet costs and pay a spy to follow you around to listen in on your conversations, it could no longer afford to spy on everybody. Through consumer habits and the cultural value placed on convenience, Americans effectively subsidize the surveillance state on behalf of the government. Dan Geer stated the matter succinctly: our online choices are between freedom, security, and convenience, but we can only pick two.
From a cost perspective, a “vegetarian” approach to resisting the surveillance state (that is, by simply opting out) is an inexpensive solution that aims at increasing the cost of surveillance to the state. This approach requires little social coordination other than a shared will to change prevailing circumstances — and a little personal initiative. Such a “vegetarian” approach also serves to inject additional uncertainty into what data is gathered (thereby diminishing the value of what data Uncle Sam does collect). This doesn’t mean life without the internet any more than vegetarianism means life without food, it just means being more selective about where your internet comes from, where you take it, and what you do with it.
You don’t need to be online all day. A good starting point would be to make a habit of leaving your cellphone tracking device at home once in a while. Just because your cellphone is wireless, that doesn’t mean you need to take it with you everywhere you go. If you take it with you everywhere you go, it’s more of a tracking device than a phone. When Uncle Sam looks through your cell tower data, changing your cellphone habits will increase the uncertainty as to your location at any given time during the day.
If you care to preserve “democracy,” all that’s really needed is a little social coordination and a willingness to put up with a little less “convenience.” This may sound incompatible with the modern world, but there’s good reason to get motivated: the modern world is incompatible with the perpetuation of the human race. There’s more at stake than a little privacy, though the more fundamental problem is bound up with the psychology of consumer society: in a growth economy based on persuasion though advertising — where consumers must make choices about the allocation of their scarce resources — every new product requiring new investment must be presented as needful and fundamental to the modern way of life.
Many people know things have gone awry with the modern world: between the threats posed by persistent national militarism, thermonuclear war, war over resources, mass hunger, environmental degradation, climate change, shortening attention spans, new communicable diseases — something is clearly wrong. And yet, somehow, everyone looks to another for the solution. Nobody is willing to see their complicity and change their behavior. So: if you don’t like internet surveillance, stop surveilling yourself. The problem isn’t some nebulous “big brother,” it’s you. The government isn’t going to change its behavior, so stop waiting for the government to save you from the government. You have to save yourself from yourself.
Nobody can rightly say the Bush Administration committed any crimes.
This is not because no crimes occurred; rather, there have been no investigations, and therefore no charges, and therefore no convictions. But the abuses of the Bush Administration are not history.
We are still at war, we are still grappling with massive deficits, we still torture, we still submit “enemy combatants” to arbitrary systems of justice, we still subject US citizens to warrantless surveillance. These things are current events, even if they began a decade ago.
Each year that goes by evidence is lost. Memories cloud over, papers get misplaced, files are deleted, the news moves on to the next story.
Few of the “difficulties” brought up by the Bush Administration’s actions have been adequately resolved. Here is one case study:
Kurt Friedrich Gödel was an Austrian logician, mathematician and philosopher. Later in his life he emigrated to the United States to escape the effects of World War II. One of the most significant logicians of all time, Gödel made an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century, a time when many, such as Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead and David Hilbert, were pioneering the use of logic and set theory to understand the foundations of mathematics.
On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution, one that would allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend’s unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his chances. Fortunately, the judge turned out to be Phillip Forman. Forman knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein’s own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion.
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.
Source: US Constitution Article 1 Section 3
Early on in the Bush Administration, the Bush Transition Energy Advisory Team was tasked with formulating national energy policy. Numerous industry executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney, who had been CEO of the energy company Haliburton in the years immediately prior to his run for office, had close ties to industry insiders, representing a possible conflict of interest. Shortly after the Bush Energy Task Force met, the Enron scandal erupted, calling into question the value of whatever advice the Bush Administration had received from industry executives.
When Cheney was asked for details about his involvement with the Energy Task Force, he refused to disclose any documents, citing executive privilege.
Years later, when Cheney’s office was suspected of disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent to retaliate against her husband for criticizing the Administration, Cheney took a different approach.
To avoid disclosing how his office handled classified information, Cheney maintained that his office was not part of the executive branch, since the Vice President is also President of the Senate.
Since nobody has investigated Cheney’s actions in detail, it would seem he gets to have it both ways — and so might any future Vice President.