All posts by John Hawkins

How the Middle Half Lives

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

— William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much With Us”, 1807

To Hell with the Middle Class!

Oh, wait. They’re already there. At least that’s what David Roedeger argues in his new book The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History. There is no there there worth saving. Fuck it.

What is it even? One minute it’s this, another minute it’s that.  Did you ever notice, all couched up on the sofa, watching Titanic that there’s all kinds of  talk of the upper classes in the upper berths and the lower classes in the lower earths, blueblood English atop and Derry brogues below, but there’s no sign or mention of the middle class. It’s like there isn’t one on the ship. Unless it was supposed to be hungry artist Leo and slumming romancer Kate coming and coming together, all compromised midship.

Or, maybe the middle class is, like, Dylan sitting at home watching the movie, inspired to write a song about it, that doesn’t mention the 1% or the 99% or any percent of class at all.  Fuck, he doesn’t even mention the iceberg. Or maybe the middle class is the viewer, the disappearing act between, a kind of choral commentator on the real action, a buffer between the Haves and Nots, sinking in the Corinthian leather sofa bought on credit at a 22% interest rate, while some generic ship-of-state sinks into the nameless sea.

Roedeger has a go at the whole lot.  He unpacks history to interrogate the baggage carried.  He brings in pollsters and shysters and the Bushes and Clintons and Obamas to make sense of how the term ‘middle class’ is used to con people into voting. He consults surveys, the Fortune in men’s eyes as they view their post-war future lifestyles.  He talks about old-timey working class types, the butler and milkmaid and the milkman who ran off with your mother (haben sie liebfraumilch?).  He gives us Marx snarks, amorphous masses and shape-shifting shibboleths, anodynes and literary anecdotes, Trump’s deplorables and other basket cases, and hints at the revolution ahead when we let the middle class go fall, fell, fallen. Fuck it, let’s face reality together.

Roedeger is a professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He has a long history of critical thinking and compelling articulation about race and class politics in America.  His previous studies include Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All and The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. What makes Black and White is not so black and white. The Sinking Middle Class is an Introduction on the language of politics and an Afterword on the White Working Class sandwiched around chapters on the political Uses, Pretenses, Problems and Miseries of the Middle Class. As Roedeger writes, “Each is meant to be short enough to read in three or four coffee breaks.”

Roedeger’s first consideration in The Sinking Middle Class is to consider the language itself.  Where did the term come from?  What are some of the assumptions that come with its dissemination?  Who’s in charge of its meaning and placement within the social narrative of class history.  Roedeger writes,

The term itself found little use until the last ninety years and not commonly until the Cold War…The strata we might retrospectively call the middle class of the nineteenth century (farmers, free professionals, and shopkeepers) differed utterly from those of twentieth (clerks, salespeople, employed professionals, and managers).

As we become more and more entwined in electricity and speed of light communications it can be difficult to ‘remember’ the slower, black and white ways of the pre-Internet.

We can intuitively recall a stratiated class structure — poor, lower middle class, upper middle class, and rich, with degrees of leaching into the contiguous class. One knew he belonged to the lower middle class (if he thought about it at all consciously) when he couldn’t afford to send his talented kid to Groton School, but wasn’t struggling too much to put a roof over the family and lay out three squares on the table for the family.  But, says Roedeger,

Over the last thirty years self-serving, vague, and often empty political rhetoric regarding saving the “middle class” has provided the language for rightward political motion finding its way even into unions. Put forward first by the Democrats, it has debased how we understand social divisions in the United States and sidelined meaningful discussions of justice in both class and racial terms.

Somewhere along the line upper middle class on down got grouped as one body  — for political purposes, but it’s a fatuous grouping.

You might see it as a way of forcing bloc-voting; a lazy way of approaching the social. economic and moral issues of the day — by trivializing nuance and difference (even as the same old class exclusions applied).  And we use the news to deliver these messages, led to believe the ads are objective and balanced bits of information. Roedeger lays into this McLuhan effect.  Writes Roedeger,

The US writer Waldo Frank [writes] in The Re-Discovery of America that “THE NEWS IS A TOY”—that is, a seemingly wonderful novelty and one immediately requiring replacement by a new wonder…the “news item” is overwhelmingly the sound bite of alleged political news, and that “anodyne” must now be in boldface….

I’m reminded of a scene from Boston Legal where the toyfulness of news, and the media in general, is unpacked in the courtroom.

So news, as anodyne, becomes part of the political packaging, part of the show, to be taken, ultimately, as no more serious than the campaign promises.  A surreal onslaught, every four years, on the delicate balance between our ears called consciousness, an ecosystem every bit as precious as rainforest. There are laugh tracks, practiced ponderments, tearful moments of William Hurt layer peelings of imagined empathy.  But we persist in believing the news, even when they refuse to tell us what we need to know. Roedeger writes,

Many of us desire those electoral news items, desperately wanting to be seen as the first to know them, and count that as being engaged in politics … even radicals follow the example of TV pundits in relying on the most quickly available voting data to construct simplistic definitions of class that have little to do with social relations.

Even radicals, and Roedeger’s not being snarky or ironical. Shit happens.

Michael Dukakis getting bushwhacked by Bernard Shaw, the latter asking him what he’d do if his wife, Kitty, was raped by Willie “Furlough” Horton becomes laugh track roast material fit for Comedy Central. One recalls this moment of “live” TV (future generations only get this moment and none of the debate, where Dukakis excelled), and Roedeger briefly references the moment, a moment racially charged, a Black man asking what a white man of power would do to a Black man If — an impossible question to answer, and we clapped with gleeful little schadenfreude hands as one of the few promising poli’s careers went down the ‘terlit’ (as Archie Bunker would say) and his wife returned to heavy drinking. Maybe that was the silver lining to the moment: Kitty was spared four years of journos clinking her ice cubes (real or imagined).

This cheapening and potentially toxic blend of shallow politics and Madison Avenue massaging was, says Roedeger, turned into an art form by consultant and pollster Stanley Greenberg working the Clinton campaign in 1992. Greenberg helped turn Macomb County into a Middle Class Melting Pot America by the careful gathering of data points and manipulation of their results.  Writes Roedeger:

Greenberg theorized a middle class roughly interchangeable with an alleged white working class—their votes available for the mining in countless electoral campaigns. In the process, he made a suburban, almost entirely white Michigan county seem to be the key to all “progressive” possibility.

As Macomb goes, so goes the nation, was the meme and theme. Another ad, with toothpaste.

Roedeger writes that Greenberg referred to his own “working class” background, starting out a white Jewish family living in an all-Black D.C. neighborhood and then migrating to “middle class” Silver Spring, as some kind of street cred he gave himself for “understanding” these categories more fluently than others.  But, notes Roedeger,

Sympathizing with Macomb County’s suburban workers was nominally available as a result of his own suburban upbringing, but his capacity for understanding them owed more to academic study and political experience than acknowledged personal affinity.

One could argue that such ‘owing to’ is also a valid critique of Marxist scholars among the hoi polloi: They don’t always live the misery, like Studs Terkel, say; often, the best they can do, over crullers and coffee, is sympathize with the Plight.

Roedeger notes that in his book, Politics and Poverty, Greenber offers up to the “migrating lower class” what Roedeger calls three “Goldilock” scenarios of movement, choices with  limited and pre-assigned values.  He clarifies by saying:

They could have remained “indifferent and uninvolved” where politics was concerned; they could have “become power brokers . . . tinkering and bargaining for their share;” or, they could have refused to “tinker” and instead entered a radical “confrontation with history.”

Most people chose middle course, writes Roedeger, between what really amounted to “a pair of Manichean choices.”

Woven into the fabric of this “Macomb-over” was the cheery “progressive” rhetoric of Stanley Greenberg’s 1995 book, Middle Class Dreams, a collection of stories of people’s everyday lives. A book about how every half, half lived, who wasn’t rich, and so was placed somewhere in the continuum of Middle Class struggles.  These struggles and tales of weal woe were captured in the film, The War Room (1993). “Greenberg’s stories of Macomb County mix personal triumph and national salvation promiscuously.” writes Roedeger. But read critically, he goes on, “They illuminate how issues of race, class, and power came to be effaced even by those most claiming credit for discussing them electorally in the neoliberal United States.”  Massaged and manipulated. Still, for all his savvy, Greenberg is at a loss to later explain how Trump happened.

Roedeger explains how this magical kabuki show helped Republicans later attract “Reagan Democrats” and he points to Pete Hamill’s late-60s article, “The Revolt Of The White Lower Middle Class,” in New York that “portentously” spoke to the rising unaddressed tension “the working class, trade union, white, beleaguered, ignored, presumptively male figure who turned from New Deal loyalties to vote for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 elections.”  These said-samers would later graduate to basket case ‘deplorables.’ A more recent article on this topic is offered up by Joan Williams in a Harvard Business Review article, “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” that Roedeger unpacks.

This mishmash of ‘folk’ became the subject of a new “technique” called, familiarly now, focus groups, “gathering … people associated demographically and often interviewing them collectively for an extended period, an expensive practice that had previously been used more by Republicans (indeed, the Focus group technique became the Hero of the 1996 Russian election when American consultants — and the Clinton administration — were rushed in to rescue Yeltsin’s campaign: at least, that’s what we were told.). But says Roedeger, this snapshot of Macomb County, as  described by Clinton and Greenberg, was actually “an exaggeration, a caricature of America.”  We’ve been caricatures ever since. He adds, “Nothing in the setup of the research and little in MCD reflected the integrated workplaces and unions in which many in Macomb also existed.” And questions of race were not addressed at all. What racism? The Clinton appeal to assuaging white anxiety backfired, and Hillary, argues Roedeger, “paid in 2016 for the race-saturated pro-incarceration rhetoric—Black youth as ‘superpredators’—she and her husband had traded on in appealing to Macomb County’s middle-class dreams in the 1990s.”

Barack Obama also got caught up (willingly) in the lampoon of political demographics.  He “deftly liquidated the issue of how a country with such astronomical rates of poverty could be almost all middle class. He defined the middle class as “not only folks who are currently [in] the middle class, but also people who aspire to be in the middle class.”  Aspire to be. Hope and Change.  Bit this begins to get us into Nora Zeale Hurston country.  She once explained how ‘folks’ came to be possessed by the sympathetic power of voodoo:  If you want to understand voodoo: believe.  It really is like the ol’ tush-grabbing Bush once said of Reaganomics — voodoo, and the Press is there to church us. It’s a plutocracy, where the 1% witch doctor gets to stick it to the 99% Middle Class for fun and exercise of power.

Sanders and Clinton weren’t much better than Obama and Romney, Roedeger says, in determining what constitutes Middle Class, “ballparking “below $250,000” annual family income as the benchmark of middle-class membership, though limiting its use to details of tax policy.”  Ironically, it seems, then, that by the time You-Know-Who became president, quite a few million people were just plain tired of the political-demographic bullshit.  He writes:

Trump presented himself as a modern political leader uniquely unmoved by pretending affinity with the middle class. He bragged repeatedly of his 1 percent status.Overemphasizing his self-made success and deemphasizing his debts, he courted being seen as filthy rich.

He didn’t pretend to be ‘one of us’ and it greatly helped his cause.

Later, Roedeger contrasts such focus groups with surveys taken by Fortune magazine before, during and after WWII.  Of special interest to him is Fortune’s 1942 survey that asks a series of class-bound questions, including identification and expectations.  He takes issue with “Fortune’s assertion that a startling four-fifths of a nation barely off the skids claimed to be middle class has meant its survey is still cited even today” and “It exulted that the nation remained impervious to the formation of ;any self-conscious proletariat such as a Marxist would wish for.’” Roedeger notes, however, Fortune’s playfulness in suggesting that “one American in four favored socialism, with another 35 percent reporting having ‘an open mind’ on the issue.”  It’s an interesting snapshot of our culture, and well worth a perusal. Here.

But for all his linguistic grappling with the definition, trends and usefulness of the term ‘Middle Class,’ and American Exceptionalism (to which it’s linked), Roedeger saves his best for demolishing its presumed allure. It’s a miserable place to be.  He lets Marx throw a haymaker, warming up with the reminder that

The precise term “American exceptionalism” came much later and amidst rich irony. One recent account has it originating from Stalin, who in 1929 was searching for a name for a heresy within the world Communist movement he dominated.

But, actually, says Roedeger, Marx tells us that the “middle classes” will propogate and that they exist to consume “the surplus bounty produced in the factories by workers,” leading to a Keeping Up with the Joneses, financed by credit debt, leading to a life of  “falling and fear of falling,” such as that described by Barbara Ehrenreich in Fear of Falling. Today’s debt slaves.  The New Middle Class.

Misery is the picture Roedeger paints.  He brings in literary figures to illustrate, such as Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” the law clerk who “prefers not to” do anymore work, who fades in toiling, losing himself, wasting away. (Not mentioned by Roedeger, but apropos, is Melville’s own misery as he toiled as a clerk to support his writing and saw his time and energy and talent waste away. This is something Tillie Olsen picks up on in “Ways of Being Silent,” her fine essay in Harper’s October 1965 issue, almost suggesting Moby Dick was an obsession with writing itself.). Roedeger emphasizes that “If we see the middle class as a plight as well as a perch, we can understand something of why many workers see themselves simultaneously as middle class, working class, and living impossible lives.”

He sees misery in the cube, “the tomb where a majority of office workers spend much of their lives,” as detailed in Nikil Saval’s Cubed. Willy Loman and The Death of A Salesman are brought in to express the tragedy of a culture consumed with buying and selling, in a transactional existence, an “embourgeoisement” nobody can fathom.  “Loman’s fall and death—a suicide after a series of failed attempts—come not at once but over a lifetime of misery,” Roedeger tells us. He writes, “Much of the misery of the middle class fits well within narratives of sudden descent in material terms,” and one recalls how the just before the Towers fell into freefall their middles sagged, and suddenly even images of 9/11 takes on the almost taunting, half-baked truths of memes.

The Sinking Middle Class offers few specific solutions (typical of the Left these days), but it is a good read that points to the vacuity of our central premises regarding what it means to be American and, presumably, Middle Class — at least until the next Credit Report comes rolling with the news of our demise, or, much to our delighted surprise, an opportunity to have our credit limit raised. The book was written before the Covid-19 pandemic began, and it would be interesting to know what Roedeger’s response would be to its near certain revolutionary impact on American Exceptionalism.

Corona may be a blessing in disguise, bringing about an end to commerce as usual, a freefall of a class designation not worth saving, and a revolution nobody can do anything about in an America beset with so many vectors of turmoil that starting over may be the only viable answer.

With any luck, a solar flare will knock out our grids, so that we can get back to the business of being human, face-to-face.

The post How the Middle Half Lives first appeared on Dissident Voice.

O, Homo Contractus, Where Art Thou?

“Deep State” derives from a John le Carré spy novel.  It is an expression bandied about rather frequently these days. It’s in danger of losing its meaning the more it becomes just another little buzzword from Hiveworld, busy bobbing among the festive fields of corn-cockle until exhaustion sets in.  There is a real, non-fictional Deep State, and it’s important that we come to understand what it is, before we are driven shallow by the incessant digital stim of the trite and trivial from the cybersphere of internet ‘updates.’

One of the more mature and sober descriptions of what the Deep State is, and what it does, came from former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren in a discussion, back in 2014, “The Deep State: Hiding in Plain Sight,” with Bill Moyers.  Lofgren spent 28 years working on the Senate and House Budget committees.  He described the Deep State as “a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state.”  It is a place, says Moyers, “where elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests.”

“We’re having a situation where the Deep State is essentially out of control,” Lofgren tells Moyers. “It’s unconstrained. Since 9/11 we have built the equivalent of three Pentagons around the DC metropolitan area, holding defense contractors, intelligence contractors, and government civilians involved in the military-industrial complex [MIC].”  Ostensibly, they all work together to keep America safe under the emotional rubric of “Never Again.”

But there’s more.  The Deep State has literally declared the Internet a battlefield. There’s no democracy on a battlefield.  To help keep the Internet safe from perceived enemies, the MIC, or Deep State, has contracted with corporations, such as Amazon, Google and Facebook to police the cybersphere by gathering information on each and every human online and sharing it with the government.  Thus, the Deep State spends a lot of time searching for and stalking the alleged spies and traitors amongst us, while the corporations are given the green light to exploit and play with our deepest desires. In short, the Deep State is at war with privacy. We are the last frontier. (Think of your obesity as ‘economic expansion,’ and an act of ‘patriotism’. Ten hut!)

In “Anatomy of the Deep State,” a follow-up essay to the Moyers interview, Lofgren writes:

That the secret and unaccountable Deep State floats freely above the gridlock between both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is the paradox of American government in the 21st century: drone strikes, data mining, secret prisons and Panopticon-like control on the one hand; and on the other, the ordinary, visible parliamentary institutions of self-government declining to the status of a banana republic amid the gradual collapse of public infrastructure.

I thought of Moyers and Lofgren’s discussion as I reconsidered “Homo Contractus,” perhaps the most important chapter of Edward Snowden’s recently released memoir, Permanent Record.  Snowden, the repentant whistleblowing Deep Stater, expands on and clarifies the inherent corruption and darkness of Deep State doings, and paints an inescapable picture of a dystopian nightmare underway.

Gone are the days of public service, of wanting to be a shiny, unhailed cog in the machinery of American Exceptionalism — flaws and all — such as Snowden’s father and grandfather had gladly been.  “I had hoped to serve my country,” writes Snowden. “but instead I went to work for it. This is not a trivial distinction.”

Moyers and Lofgren provide us with an abstract overview of the situation, but Snowden brings the nuts and bolts. To get around congressional hiring limits, Deep State agencies hire private contractors who are off the books — no real public accountability for deeds, and, in most cases, we don’t even know who they are.  Lofgren has estimated, “There are now 854,000 contract personnel [as of 2014] with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of top-secret-cleared civilian employees of the government.”  They are virtually a whole sub-species of worker that Snowden refers to as “homo contractus.”  They run the surveillance state show — some of them looking for enemies of the state, and others on the look-out for enemies of Deep State doings. In the war zone, they call the shots without any input from the public.

Members of Congress go along with this arrangement, says Snowden,  because “[Deep State] directors and congresspeople are rewarded, after they retire from office, by being given high paying positions and consultancies with the very companies they’ve just enriched. From the vantage of the corporate boardroom, contracting functions as governmentally assisted corruption.”  Private companies wait for public servants to obtain top security clearances, then they poach them through Job Fairs, where public servants are offered huge salary increases doing the same job for a private company — and, as Lofgren’s statistic indicates, many are jumping the ship of state to go yachting with the corporates.

Take Snowden, he was hired at such a fair by a BAE sub-shell company called COMSO (Snowden never learned what the acronym stood for).  At the interview he negotiated his salary up, at the recruiter’s insistence, because a 3-5% kick-back to the recruiter, from the government, made it worthwhile. He went from $30K to $60K in the negotiation play. Says Snowden, “Bumping up salaries was in everyone’s interest—everyone’s, that is, except the taxpayer’s.” He was a contractor, but he was doing the same work as a public servant. Later in his career he was hired by Dell computers, then Booz Allen Hamilton, each time merely switching business cards, but working at CIA headquarters for the CIA, a homo contractus spook among the spooks. No public accountability.

Snowden says homo contractus brings with it a different kind of energy — something “sinister.”  Not governed by a sense of public service, a certain arrogance and elitism become the filters of their deeds.  The military-industrial complex is bound together in a negative agreement — homo contractus hiring is a skirting of the law, and a profit-making arrangement.  Contractors, says Snowden, often see their work as “inherently apolitical, because they’re based on data, whose prerogatives are regarded as preferable to the chaotic whims of the common citizen.” In other words, they know better than democracy.  Snowden adds, “That can be intoxicating, at least for a teetotaler like me. Also, all of a sudden you have not just the license but the obligation to lie, conceal, dissemble, and dissimulate.”

Out of this comes governmental policies that push and sustain the interests — not of the commonweal — but of the parallel government that exists between private players and the Deep State.  The net result is a revolving door between the ever-expanding Intelligence Community and private companies, each sharing in the spoils of the public purse.  So, we read of DARPA directors jumping to Google, and Google’s work with drones for the Pentagon. Amazon ends up devising  web services for the CIA, and Jeff Bezos’ other project, The Washington Post, becomes the conduit of choice for anonymous intelligence agency leaks.  We discover that Facebook sells the information of its users to private firms, and experiments with human emotions that may have relevance to intelligence agencies.

It can get even more sinister.  If the Deep State wants to go to war, without public approval, and for profit motives, it can use its technology to spy on individuals to uncover compromat, such as what the Bush administration ordered in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, when it tried to dig up dirt on UN Security Council members to strong-arm them into voting for war. When their deeds were leaked, the US went to war anyway — backed only by phony WMD claims.  Hundreds of thousands of casualties have ensued.

It may yet get even more sinister.  Many of the cybersecurity firms that operate today are manned by analysts and techies who are themselves products of homo contractus. Crowdstrike features ex-FBI agents. They were also “politically aligned” with the DNC, which is interesting, if for no other reason, than it was the FBI’s James Comey who did as much damage as anyone to Hillary’s campaign. It raises the question whether there were homo contractuses on duty during the events that unfolded. You just don’t know: Edward Snowden’s business card read “Dell,” but he worked for the CIA. Hmph.

More bewildering was the testimony that Kevin Mandia of Mandiant gave before a Congressional subcommittee on intelligence back in 2011.  It was double-take stuff:

The majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, more than 90% of the breaches MANDIANT responds to are first detected by the government, not the victim companies. That means that 9 in every 10 companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until the government notified them.

Gobsmack time.  But it gets better. Mandia has reported in the past an incident where he slid a folder across the desk of a skeptical corporate executive (he was confident in his company’s security integrity) and the exec is described as being shocked to find in the folder deep secrets of the company.  Mandiant was hired.

Mandiant’s Kevin Mandia broke his cyberteeth at the Pentagon as an intelligence officer.  After fumbling around for a few years, including a stint at ManTech — a cybersecurity company full of ex-spooks — he and his Mandiant associates are said to have solved the puzzle of the New York Times and Washington Post breaches in 2014, which ended up in the indictment of a cadre of soldiers from China — America’s preferred enemy at the time.  From there, things blossygossled. Mandiant got famous overnight, one thing led to another, until Mandia found himself being bought out by cybersecurity company FireEye, a CIA-funded start-up, for a billion bucks. Mandia was made FireEye’s Chief Operating Officer.

Again this highlights the opacity that masks the Deep State doings when it employs homo contractus. We don’t know what they get up to, despite being on the public dollar, indirectly.  Mandiant, like CrowdStrike, was responsible for evaluating the server breach at the Democratic National Convention in 2016.  As Mandia has already acknowledged, he has in the past received insider information from the government, regarding breaches at corporations.  One wonders whether CrowdStrike or Mandiant, or any other cybersecurity contractor, received a tip-off regarding the DNC breach, and that’s why it was never forensically examined — although that didn’t stop an ‘opinion of cause’ being issued by three intelligence heads, leading to the MSM’s under-critical acceptance of Russian hacking.

Further, as if we need more worry, such a homo contractus arrangement with the Deep State, already undemocratic, appears to be metastasising overseas.  The CIA and NSA are helping repressive regimes, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, build their own bespoke and state-of-the-art (naturally) surveillance regimes, and watch indifferently as these tyrants with too much dinosaur money use the technology to spy on “enemies,” including dissidents.  How un-American.

Already, there has been cause for alarm, as companies like DeepMatter, employing ship-jumping analysts from the NSA, go after American dissidents and journalists too.  The NSA and CIA are virtually beyond law in these countries.  What they couldn’t get away with in America, they can do with impunity in SA and the UAE. Even Google’s work with Dragonfly, a project designed to give China a search engine devoid of human rights queries, suggests we are now in the business of exporting panopticon products.

As Mike Lofgren told Bill Moyers a few years back now, the Deep State is “the red thread that runs through the history of the last three decades. It is how we had deregulation, financialization of the economy, the Wall Street bust, the erosion of our civil liberties and perpetual war.” We’ve been warned now for a few years by the likes of Moyers, Snowden and others.  None of them are conspiracy-theorists. Snowden certainly believes we have entered into dystopia territory.  Which would mean democracy is finished as a global solution to population management.

Only the self-proclaimed gods of digi-stim know what happens next.

Deep State Throats: Towards a Franker Lingua

You should never judge a book by its title, but with whistleblower Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record the reader gets as close s/he can possibly get to the soul of a narrative before actually reading it.  He means it: The American government, with help of its data-gathering 5 Eyes partners, is gathering up information on every mobile or Internet-connected individual on the planet.  They have a permanent dossier on each and every one of us. Snowden writes, “We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.”

As Snowden puts it, “At any time, the government could dig through the past communications of anyone it wanted to victimize in search of a crime (and everybody’s communications contain evidence of something)… this is tantamount to a government threat: If you ever get out of line, we’ll use your private life against you.”

This implied threat is not conspiracy theory, not paranoia, and it is not new; it represents the criminal intentions of some agencies of government, often working in collusion with the Executive. The Intelligence Community (IC) has, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer once admonished Trump when he lashed out against them, “Six ways to Sunday at getting back at you.” (Apparently, Schumer accepts their criminality as ‘the norm’.)

We have seen how the system can be abused already.  Frank Church told us all about it in the 70s, and so did the Rockerfeller Commission. The CIA was involved in the Watergate break-in. Gary Webb told us what the CIA was up to in Nicaragua.  We all know now, and apparently have come to terms with the fact, that the IC was criminally involved in the brazen televised false testimony about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) that was forced upon the world as a pretext for an unnecessary and illegal war against Iraq.

This latter criminal activity was recently the subject of the whistleblowing film, Official Secrets, in which GCHQ analyst Katherine Gunn blew the whistle on her agency when she discovered that they were being coerced by the Americans into finding kompromat on members of the UN Security Council to force them to vote in favour of the war (to make the war technically “legal”). The UN was formed, in part, to prevent such future nation-state aggression. But Gunn was really blowing the whistle on the NSA, who requested the kompromat – in fact, she was blowing the whistle on the blackmail activity of the GW Bush administration, who would have directed the NSA to gather such “intel.” An impeachable offense.

Snowden and Gunn are whistleblowers, and not politically-motivated leakers. What they released were very serious revelations of the criminal behavior of government officials.  Snowden revealed that the real war was not on Terror, but on human privacy.  As he wrote in PM, “Any elected government that relies on surveillance to maintain control of a citizenry that regards surveillance as anathema to democracy has effectively ceased to be a democracy.”

Official Secrets also revealed that after suspect government actions leading to Britain’s decision to go to war with Argentina, the so-called Falklands War, the government tightened its whistleblower laws to make what Gunn did illegal. She would have gone to jail for reporting a data burglary of Watergate proportions. Since a trial might have compromised American intelligence, the British government dropped their charges. We might have even seen how the Brits, too, use contractors, like, say, Orbis, to do the dirty work of dossier-gathering.

Now that the Horowitz Report has been released, we have learned that Christopher Steele is no whistleblower along the lines of Snowden or Gunn.  His dossier was full of shit, and he may one day be hoiked into his own spittoon. How did he ever get to be called a whistleblower in the first place? Because he had the attentive ear of the MSM, in hate with the Trump administration, willing to listen to his off-the-record kompromat story (September 2016). It’s easy to understand MSM motivation, but they got sucked into a self-degrading compromise of their own.  They might as well have been sitting down in a secret meeting with the National Enquirer. They got played.

(You could argue that the MSM – and the rest of us — got played before this way, when another whistleblower, Deep Throat, helped take down a hated president, Richard Nixon.  But Mark Felt had an agenda: He resented not being appointed director of the FBI after Hoover died, and didn’t like it one bit when Nixon made a political appointment to the vacant seat.  Had Felt been made director, we never would have had Deep Throat. It was nice to see Nixon go, but Felt was a leaker, not a whistleblower.)

As the Horowitz Report makes clear, the Steele Dossier, which was meant to titillate our late Capitalist prurience-conditioned minds, contained little ‘information’ (and let us recall, from the Stasi’s work, that information is not necessarily fact or truth) more intriguing than references to an alleged incident where Trump, while he was attending a beauty pageant, back in 2013, had some prostitutes piss on a hotel bed that he was told the Obamas had slept in.

Steele’s dossier was salacious and not verifiable. Instead, its veracity was built on Steele’s “reputation” (which was amped up, as they do, when building arguments from authority).  Steele was to be seen as an expert on Russian affairs, even though he hadn’t been to Russia in years.  He relied on so-called ‘assets’, who were either anything but, or non-existent by virtue of the protection of asset ‘cover.’

Off the record with the MSM, in October 2016, Steele approached David Corn to spread his smear to the Left through Mother Jones.  Dossier information was published in MJ, and later in Buzzfeed, in each cased marked unverified. But let’s just say, Steele’s ‘whistleblower’ revelations were something less than the sinister implications of the Stellar Wind program whose details the New York Times quashed in October 2004, to prize-winning reporter’s James Risen’s dismay.

Though clearly unverifiable by the supposed best IC services in the world, the Horowitz Report makes clear that in October Surprise Month 2016, the FBI fudged information on the FISA warrants they obtained to legally gather information on Carter Page and, through him, the Trump Campaign. The Report makes clear that the FBI abused its power by essentially lying to the FISA court. Once again, government agencies, with tremendous spying power, opted to use the presumed veracity of their authority to lie instead, when the information didn’t suit their agenda.

Russia may have tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, in the same way America was all too happy to crow about when they did it to Russia in 1996, but so did Ukraine (according to Nation and Financial Times pieces), Israel and, if the Horowitz Report is to be understood, our “special friends” the Brits.  Maybe we should be asking – who didn’t try to interfere in the election?

But more seriously, the Report strongly suggests that elements of the FBI (at the behest of the Obama administration?) were messing with the American electorate themselves by using tainted information, developed by the Clinton campaign through FusionGPS, to get warrants issued against an opponent of their campaign in October Surprise Month 2016. In essence, it sounds like we might have been messing with our own elections.

Speaking of messed up elections, the 2016 Jeb Bush presidential campaign was, according to Reuters, the party that originally hired Steele to “build” a dossier on Trump. (One recalls that Jeb Bush was the governor of Florida when his brother George W. eked out a tiny victory in 2000 – a margin so slim, and contested, that the fact that his brother was running should have required an automatic recount of votes.) Bush has denied any direct link to Steele, but you imagine him placing a call to Hillary, one dynasty to another, and telling her about the Steele work and where to get it.

Trump has been rightly castigated by the MSM for buying into conspiracy-sounding stories about Ukraine’s interference in the 2016 election.  In his infamous telephone call, he mumbled something about Crowdstrike, and the DNC servers in the Ukraine, and Biden – to hear him speak: There’s a lack of intelligence between his ears that must make the IC insane. You could see him just mumbling state secrets to Putin, because he’s a dumb shit.  But, at the same time, bringing up Crowdstrike is not totally daft. (Now that we know that the “DNC Server” was not LAN-based but WAN-based the hacking/leaking question takes on a new dimension.) It’s true that Dimitri Alperovitch, CTO of Crowdstrike, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where Hillary Clinton received a Distinguished International Leadership Award in 2013, and so that’s an obvious connection.

Not necessarily a big deal, but left out of the equation is the fact that Crowdstrike’s president, Shawn Henry, was arguably the most important agent at the FBI, before he retired after 24 years to join Crowdstrike. According to his Crowdstrike profile, “he oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide, international operations, and the FBI’s critical incident response to major investigations and disasters.”  One wonders: Did he retire to become what Snowden was – a Homo contractus, better paid, virtually no public accountability for deeds done on contract jobs for the government? More importantly, perhaps, was he CCed in when FBI-Steele transactions were taking place?

But speaking of Homo contractuses, why was Mandiant also brought in as back up to the DNC server investigation, given that they are one of Crowdstrike’s main rivals?  They came to the same conclusion: The Russians did it.  But it’s interesting to note that Mandiant merged with cybersecurity company FireEye, a CIA start-up, in 2014.  So, again, it’s fair, given what Snowden tells us, to ask if Kevin Mandia took an early retirement from his Pentagon position to be a contract employee?

But back to whistleblowers.  Our Citizen X, the Ukraine quid pro quo whistleblower.  The MSM has released very little information about him, other than acknowledging that he’s a CIA officer, because they don’t want to publish details that would inevitably allow free-thinking individuals to work out who he is. The name of this whistleblower has been circulating for weeks in alternative-to-MSM publications, such as realclearinvestigations.com, run by, ahem, a former NY Times editor. There’s a lot of jumping ship going on: The Intercept is staffed with star reporters from the MSM who couldn’t hack it anymore.

If our third-hand-wringing whistleblower is who these alt-Indies say he is, then he doesn’t fit the criteria that Edward Snowden lays out — a Daniel Ellsberg type — but rather a pawn in the Deep State game.  The one-and-only CIA analyst to ever go to prison (albeit deeply minimum) for whistleblowing, John Kiriakou, has weighed in on the master debate.  “If he’s a whistleblower,” writes Kiriakou, “and not a CIA plant whose task it is to take down the president, then his career is probably over.” (I find this amusing, because I always thought of Kiriakou as a plant to apologize for the CIA torture program – he said it worked, but the Torture Report said it didn’t.)

Elsewhere, Kiriakou says, “[I]nside the CIA, I guarantee you that people are saying, ‘Well, if he’s willing to rat out the president, he’s probably willing to rat out us.’ And so no one is ever going to trust this guy again.” So, according to K. either he’s a plant or his career is over.  We’re told he’s back at the CIA resuming his career. But, because he’s anonymous, he might actually be another homo contractus by now. That’s what the Indie word is.

Unfortunately for the fused agendas of the MSM, our intrepid Deep State Throat, if the alt media information holds up, was a confidante of Joe Biden when he was the “point man” for Ukraine affairs after the CIA-encouraged coup there in 2014.  In fact, according to Real Clear, the ‘whistleblower,” was more than that: Deep State Throat was Obama’s NSC director for Ukraine. This has been neither conformed or denied yet though.

There may, or may not be, anything to the Joe Biden quid pro quo he successfully executed in 2016 and bragged about on live TV, with minor hand-wringing by the MSM, but it is worth noting that the continued investigation into Burisma that Trump was pushing would also have resulted in the question: Why is Cofer Black on its Board of Directors (since just after Trump’s inauguration in 2017)?

It’s speculation, but not wild, that Deep State Throat, Obama’s former NSC liaison for Ukraine, received a call of his own, perhaps from the American embassy anxious to continue the anti-Russian work of the previous administration. As Edward Snowden writes in Permanent Record, “The worst-kept secret in modern diplomacy is that the primary function of an embassy nowadays is to serve as a platform for espionage.”

Because Western democratic citizens live in a politically dysfunctional world — Five Eyes nations are enforcers for nation-state gangster goons guarding their ever-acquisitive interests — without a respected unifying governmental agency, such as a real league of nations, we get nothing crucial done as a globe — see climate change.  We’ve become hive-minded, interconnected in uncomfortable ways, and seem to be suffering from some kind of colony collapse of consciousness.

This would help explain how these things keep happening under our noses, while the MSM looks the other way.  Or leads us in a rendition of Two Minute Hate.  Prey to tiny cornball characters in cyberspace who see themselves as swaggering Gods. Snowden opines, “America remains the hegemon, the keeper of the master switches that can turn almost anyone on and off at will.”

Assange: “Send Him Back” to Australia  

Australia’s the kind of place where, after twenty years here, you can wake up one morning to a sucker-punch epiphany — wow! This is what it would be like if the South had won the Civil War. No slavery, but a mindset, sometimes an arrogance that comes at you like Dylan’s twisty freight train. Not a place to feel like an outsider. It can seem a bit surreal, a place where, from coast to coast, they can force their children to read To Kill A Mockingbird in the day to educate them on the banality of injustice, but then bring them along to the lynching of an Uppity that night. These are dangerous, Sam Kinison-like thoughts, and as Bobby would say, “If my thought-dreams could be seen, they’d probably put my head in a guillotine.” So I cool it.

On the other hand, by comparison to America, Australia has a model social safety net in place.  Bernie Sanders would be envious. Socialist Democratic values work.  You can provide backbone support for public needs, and still leave plenty of elbowing room for capitalism and getting obscenely rich. They have Medicare-for-all here; while the system needs tweaks, nobody goes without necessary medical care; just make an appointment. Tertiary education can be paid for through generous government loans paid back through a sensible income-indexed scheme. (Once upon a time, tertiary education here was free.) And there is government assistance with income and housing for those in need.

It’s a self-described “clever” and “lucky” country, but also, like many other countries, full of strange and sometimes dark contradictions. Waltzing Matilda laid back, but Sam Kinison in your face, too.

Julian Assange is from this place. He spent part of his early childhood on Magnetic Island, off the coast of Queensland. One account describes his “wild…Tom Sawyer-like” childhood. And there is even a Jumping Frog of Calaveras County atmosphere to the place that Mark Twain would have smiled at. Later, he moved to the mainland and had a sturm-und-drang childhood, featuring the misfit blues and loneliness, but also self-education and computers — just as the Internet was mainstreaming. Then Dennis the Menace grew up to become an Enema of the State.

He’s a kind of Libertarian (and libertine) who wants limited corporate and governmental influence on individual lives; he loathes all the strutting, data-driven Machiavellis, and champions the dying light of simple privacy, even if it must be decked out in the chainmail of be-knighted encryption. He seems to repel both Democrats and Republicans these days — leaks and hacks, hacks and leaks: the Democrats hate him for undermining Hillary; Trump seems to hate Assange for helping him get elected and seems in a hurry to get him imprisoned for espionage before Wikileaks can release the president’s tax records.

It can seem shocking at times — the mind double-takes — to think that this guy came from a nation that doesn’t especially value the freedoms he pushes on the rest of the world.  Unlike most modern democratic countries, there is no Bill of Rights, or the like, to fall back on in Australia if the government decides to “crack down” on freedom. Aussies largely see themselves as “egalitarian,” and the aforementioned solid social safety net is a great quietener of political passions, but the American-driven War on Terror has begun to expose just how few protections people have here, should that ever matter to them.

Thus, a few years back, Australia passed an anti-terrorist measure in parliament, which, while providing for the necessary means to deal with incidents, used language that left open the possibility that the law could lead to serious abuses, such as torture and the undermining of the preumption of innocence. More recently, anti-encryption legislation was passed that has alarmed some citizens, who see it as an assault on privacy and journalism. And even more recently, a legislative amendment to the espionage act made trafficking in top secret information illegal — a virtual shutting down of whistleblowing in Australia.

As Senator David Leyonhjelm, expressed in a Melbourne Age article recently, “These provisions are shameful. As a nation we should be better than this. Australia is engaged in a fight against barbarism, but that does not justify becoming barbarians ourselves.” As in most places, many Australians would just see the sum of such legislation as a matter of having a contingency plan in place to prevent horrific terrorist events from happening and for dealing with them efficiently if they do. However, there are some troubling signs of suppression already at work.

Recently, the Sydney offices of the national ABC network were raided by Australian Federal Police and a huge trove of data was seized, including leaked documents, images and videos, knowns as “The Afghan Files,” purporting to contain evidence of the murders of civilians and their cover-up. The ABC had produced and aired a seven-part story in 2017. Two years later: No story in the future — or the past — is safe from prosecution, it seems. The ABC believes the public interest is established; the exposed events being a revelation of military war criminality gone uninvestigated. When asked for a response, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison was “dismissive.”

In a separate incident, an ABC journalist’s home in Canberra was raided in an effort to secure sensitive documents obtained by reporter Annika Smethurst which she used in a 2018 story to show Australian Signal Directorate plans to enhance its domestic spying capacity. News, because, like the CIA in America, they’re not empowered to spy domestically. So, again, it’s definitely news of public interest. The government just wants to know who leaked the story.

The besieged and shrinking media in Australia has been intimidated by legal constraints for years — even away from national security issues. For instance, back in 2014 the Israelis bombed Gaza in a much-publicized incident that brought international outrage. Israelis were captured by photographers at a Sderot hillside watching the carnage and “treating the bombing as a spectator sport.” A Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist, drawing information from various photos, depicted the scene in such a way that Jewish defamation groups attacked the cartoon as “anti-semitic” because the cartoonist used religious symbols (star of David, kippah), as well as showing an Israeli holding a TV remote control, as if viewing a Netflix streaming movie. Cowed editors pulled the cartoon, despite the political accuracy of its depiction. (Still at it. Just saying.)

Julian Assange, like most journalists, just wants to keep the Bastards honest. It’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Like it says over the masthead of the Washington Post, (maybe ironically) “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” We need to know about atrocities committed overseas in our name. We need to know when elected representatives who promised the moon landing to put them in office are lying about hiding facts that would interest the people who them there. And we need to know when they are “cracking down” on freedom in Australia every bit as much as when they are “cracking down” down on freedom of expression in Tiananmen Square. [The alleged Tiananmen Square Massacre has been exposed as disinformation by WikiLeaks. — DV Ed]

Australian politicians are on record as regarding Julian Assange as a criminal; one former attorney-general even went so far as to suggest cancelling his passport and charging him with treason, and, if convicted, of imprisoning him for life.  Under present laws, even possession of the brief that suggested he be charged with treason could be criminalized and a journalist reporting on it charged. In this political milieu it is amazing that Julian Assange ever grew up to be a defender of freedom — the press, individual public rights, human privacy. Amazing. Probably it helped enormously that he just didn’t fit in.

Last September, Scott Morrison became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit the White House since John Howard. (Howard, no fan of a Bill of Rights at home, once demanded that the Iraqis include such a Bill in their own constitution. That’s kind of the way it is here.) Who knows what Scott and Donald will talk about. But one likely subject is immigration policy. Morrison, the architect of Australia’s current No Boat People Will Ever Become Citizens Here policy, can talk Trump through how to make Guatemala his own Manus Island, complete with compounds overflowing with toilet shit — you know, so they get the message.

China: All In All, Just Another BRIC in the Wall

Chief of Police: One man cannot move a mountain.
Charlie Chan: No, but two men can start digging.

— Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) calling a spade a spade

Fifty years ago, Capitalists Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger initiated their rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after 25 years of total silence between the world’s two leading economic ideologies. America was in a Cold War with the ‘SPECTRE’ Soviets, but it was a Cold Shoulder they shared with the Chinese. A wall had come up between them. Through backchannels and diplomatic alleyways, the Commie-hating Nixon was invited to come play some ping-pong and shoot the shit with Chairman Mao Zedong. Nixon’s sudden announcement that he’d be going to China in 1972 was a shocker, election year or not. (What’s next, some of us thought, will Tricky be inviting Timothy Leary over at the White House for quaaludes and cubes?) Fear and Loathing had begun.

Many folks agreed (but not Peter Seeger) that when Nixon went electric with Mao and Chou in February 1972 it was as monumentally meaningful as Mr. Jones’s chatfest with Napoleon in rags at the end of Orwell’s Animal Farm. Look Left, look Right, tell me what you see. Mao snarked about the American Left-Right in his conversation, calling the Left-Left disingenuous reactionaries (i.e., the pampered middle class). Nixon and Mao and Kissinger and Chou chowed down with bonhomme and good humor, the world was their oyster, on the half shell.

At one point, Mao shot down Nixon’s passive aggressive attempt at flattery:

Nixon: I read your book [The Little Red Book]. You moved a nation and changed the world. [Mao looks at Chou, who laughs]

Mao: Oh, I don’t know about that. Maybe one neighborhood in Beijing. [Chou laughs so hard, Kissinger maneuvers das Heimliche]

And soon tiring of Nixon, Mao called it a day:

Mao: I don’t feel so well. [the translator almost said, “You make me sick.]

Nixon: You look good.

Mao: [imitating Charlie Chan] Appearances can be deceiving.

And they all agreed over their shoulders, guffawing, as they moved down the corridor in different directions that what Lennon said was true, If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, then…. Funniest thing Nixon ever heard. You don’t believe me? Read the transcript for yourself.

A later toast succinctly lays out the clearest, most coherent policy toward China (and all sovereign nations) imaginable and discusses their future role together as partners in a “new world order.” He says, in part,

You believe deeply in your system, and we believe just as deeply in our system. It is not our common beliefs that have brought us together here, but our common interests and our common hopes, the interest that each of us has to maintain our independence and the security of our peoples and the hope that each of us has to build a new world order in which nations and peoples with different systems and different values can live together in peace, respecting one another while disagreeing with one another, letting history rather than the battlefield be the judge of their different ideas.

Mr. Mao, Nixon said, tear down that wall, and Chou En-lai laughed, thinking but it’s 13,000 miles long. Why you not start with Berlin Wall? You funny, shaking his head.

So important was that rapprochement that books were written, an opera was made. Nixon in China got the wunderkind (now wundergramps) Peter Sellars treatment. Remember his Wagner? The pampered middle class enervated by the sobering revelations of the Nam experience (We’re willing to do that? No, not My Lai, Kent State.) was inebriated again, like an overflowing glass of bubbly multiverses. Great libretto by Alice Goodman, who’s been asked to go after Trump now. And the MET production of the opera is actually here on YouTube. Even the Scots have a 2020 version up on stage. Can you imagine Mao with a brogue? Or Nixon for that matter? Pass the bong.

Fast-forward 50 years to the Nixon Library, Mike Pompeo (a comic book villain’s name if there ever was one) delivering a kung-pow speech meant to announce to the world America’s intention to erect a Great Wall against Chinese capitalist aggression: What if they export their sweatshops everywhere? Essentially implying Nixon was a two-faced liar, Pompeo averred that “President Nixon once said he feared he had created a ‘Frankenstein’ by opening the world to the CCP. And here we are.” He called on the world — the same one the Trump government has spurned in the last three years — to come together: “If the free world doesn’t change Communist China, Communist China will change us.”

Has he ever considered that capitalism itself is a Frankenstein monster waiting to happen, or, put more honestly, that the US is Dr. Frankenstein out to create capitalist monsters around the globe? And Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in 2017, eating “the most beautiful piece of devil’s food cake that [he had] ever seen,” when Trump pulled a cakeus interruptus and whispered to Xi, “I’ve just bombed Syria.” Xi almost snarked some Chan, but did not want to encourage more chaos. Where was Chou when you needed him? Alas, poor Yorick.

Chaos. That’s the recurring motif of Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy by the former Singapore ambassador to the UN, and president of the UN Security Council from 2001-2, Kishore Mahbubani. “The Chinese people fear chaos,” writes Mahbubani early on. “It is the one force that in the past brought China to its knees and brought misery to the Chinese people. Clearly, America is suffering chaos now,” he continues. “President Donald Trump has been a polarizing and divisive figure. American society has never been as divided since the Civil War of 1861–1865.” And that was written before the impeachment, Super Bowl recovery and Covid-19. Damn. And now some people are thinking George Floyd might be the Storm the Bastille moment we’ve been waiting for.

Has China Won? has 8 chapters, an introduction, and an appendix, “The Myth of American Exceptionalism,” which could serve as the thesis of the book. With Trump wielding power, Mahbubani suggests, it’s as if America has gone Brexit from the world and even with its extraordinary military might still flexing muscles everywhere, no one is paying much attention any more to her manifest destiny nonsense. “One thing is certain,” writes Mahbubani, “The geopolitical contest that has broken out between America and China will continue for the next decade or two.” There are chapters delving into strategic mistakes the two countries have made in dealing with each other, chapters on their geopolitical motivations and goals, and chapters that question which way nations will go at this historical crossroad of values.

Though he briefly mentions it toward the end of the book, Mahbubani doesn’t emphasize the Clash of Civilizations trope, espoused by the likes of General William Westmoreland, which got us all greatly walled off from China to begin with — such KKK-like nonsense, if true, would mean a Jim Crow world favoring the Nordics and the Nordic Trackers, as culture is not readily negotiable. Nevertheless, Trump and Pompeo thought they’d give Generalissimo Gookphobe’s slant another go. Today, however, we deal in Empir(e)ical theories — the honesty of economics, we tell ourselves, turning capitalist exploitation into an ‘objective’ universal principle; like comparing shitting your bed to organic gardening.

If we want to simplify, we could compare the CCP and Americans systems to a contest between the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) versus The New Silk Road. The Chinese muscling west and south to Africa, the Americans muscling east and south to Africa, and each a kind of spectre hanging over Europe like a high and low pressure system duking it out and you just know a hard rain’s a-gonna fall. PNAC is the muscle behind the unrefusable offer from the neoliberals. The Chinese will sow soft discord, spread their opiated capital to the people, until Confucian reigns. They already have the West by the yinyangs, there’s no Tao about that, and some neocons, believing the CCP wants to do to us what we did to the CCCP, probably think we should just blast them to get some debt relief. (Chou just cracked up in his grave.) But we want a more nuanced approach. Let us follow Mahbubani’s train of thought.

Mahbubani spends a couple of chapters trying to figure out what went wrong in the respective approaches of the US and China that led to the collapse of their 50 year détente. He expresses initial surprise that American businessmen, who’ve made so much money in China, have failed to show up to defend China when President Trump began his trade war in January 2018. It’s one of the few areas that Congress and the president have shown bipartisan unanimity. Mahbabani writes,

Senator Chuck Schumer said that “when it comes to being tough on China’s trading practices, I’m closer to Trump than Obama or Bush.” Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said, “The United States must take strong, smart and strategic action against China’s brazenly unfair trade policies.…”

As far as Americans are concerned, China brought this on themselves.

Mahbabani notes that it’s not only Americans coming down with a Sino headache. Europeans, too, have been nonplussed by China’s tactics. He cites George Magnus, a research associate at the China Centre, Oxford University, who tells how, in his 2018 book Red Flags,

China has made a huge political mistake in ignoring the strong convictions among leading American figures that China has been fundamentally unfair in many of its economic policies: demanding technology transfer, stealing intellectual property, imposing nontariff barriers. “The US has a strong case” against China in this area, as Magnus notes.

This is dooley noted, as they say in Casablanca and the White House. Of all his hateful media, even the adversarial New York Times has run op-eds suggesting that Trump engage Europe.

Mahbabani points to “three contributing factors” that brought about China’s unacceptable behavior: one, the power of local officials to control business arrangements with foreigners; two, Sino hubris over the 2008 Wall Street financial collapse; and, three, weak central government in the 2000s. While Americans applied pressure on Beijing, Mahbabani points out that “even if Beijing wished to do so, there are limits to how much day-to-day control the center can impose.” He adds, Charlie Chan-like, “A well-known Chinese saying is: The mountains are high, and the emperor is far away. For millennia, the provinces of China, even under strong emperors, have always had strong local autonomy.” And, sure, they were laughing their asses off when the Cappies almost blew their own brains out playing Russian roulette in 2008, almost like Manchurian candidates. Wah.

Mahbabani also takes issue with American tactics. By giving the Middle Kingdom the middle finger, as only Americans can do (think Easy Rider), we’ve become occidentally disoriented in our foreign policy, becoming the kind of reactionaries that Mao and Nixon had a chuckle festival over in 1972. And, as far as Mahbabani is concerned, America has a “need to find a foreign scapegoat to hide the deep domestic socioeconomic challenges that have emerged in American society.”

Mahbabani largely blames Trump for this drive:

By plunging into a major geopolitical contest, possibly the biggest ever in human history, without first working out a comprehensive long-term strategy, the Trump administration has only succeeded in diminishing America’s standing in the world while, at the same time, creating space for China’s influence to grow in the world.

As Charlie Chan might have said: Wise man say, If you shoot from hip too often, soon you need hip replacement therapy. Better hope HMO cover. Well, anyway, Mahbabani doesn’t stop there, he continues to lay into Trump. He writes, “America would present a formidable challenge to China if it were a united, strong, and self-confident country.” He’s not done: “Trump has done the opposite. He has divided and polarized America…Trump’s administration must take sole blame for following a unilateral, rather than a multilateral, approach to deal with China…America, under Trump, is increasingly perceived as a chaotic and unpredictable actor.” His pitch rising, Mahbababni goes aria, “Did anyone in the Trump administration work out a thoughtful and well considered strategy before launching the first round of these tariffs (which were followed by many more rounds)?” He notes: “Trump replied: ‘I just like tariffs.’” Wah. Chaos. Jake, you tell yourself, it’s just Chinatown.

Sometimes while reading Has China Won? you wonder if Mahbubani didn’t get so driven to distraction by Trump that he started leaning on some magic dust to get through his analysis. He thinks,

it would be reasonable for many Chinese leaders to believe that when America promotes democracy in China, it is not trying to strengthen China.It is trying to bring about a more disunited, divided China, a China beset by chaos. If that was China’s fate, America could continue to remain the number one unchallenged power for another century or more.

That’s fine, but what I’m talking about is his diminishing Trump by trotting in Plato. He notes, “Edward Luce reminded us, that ‘democracy was the rule of the mob—literally demos (mob) and kratos (rule).’” And that “Plato said the best form of rule was by a philosopher king.” And then the punchline: “There is a very strong potential that Xi Jinping could provide to China the beneficent kind of rule provided by a philosopher king.” Sweet Jesus. Pass the bong.

But the most important takeaway from this section is Mahbabani’s discussion of the US Dollar as the global reserve currency, and how it has backed American privilege and hegemony over the many decades, and, how, most importantly, this “privilege,” which has allowed Americans to pursue “middle class” lives, on credit, (without knowing it), is in danger of collapse. He quotes Ruchir Sharma to make his point:

Reserve currency status had long been a perk of imperial might—and an economic elixir. By generating a steady flow of customers who want to hold the currency, often in the form of government bonds, it allows the privileged country to borrow cheaply abroad and fund a lifestyle well beyond its means.

As a result of this status, paper money can be printed up whenever needed — essentially IOUs bought up by foreign investors and countries, such as China, who if they ever cashed in could make the US government insolvent overnight.

Mahbabani points out that such an arrangement is built on trust and that

The world has been happy to use the US dollar as the global reserve currency because they trusted the US government to make the right decisions on the US dollar that would take into consideration the economic interests not only of the 330 million American people but also of the remaining 7.2 billion people outsideAmerica who also rely on the US dollar to fund their international transactions.

But, he writes, now much of the world sees America falling into disorder, with the 2008 near-collapse of the global economy, thanks to Wall Street hijinks, being a harbinger of ill-tidings ahead for America. As a result, China, and other countries have begun looking for ways to get around the US dollar, such as with BRICS and other talk of alternate currencies. No doubt, this left many Western bankers shitting bricks. Could such moves cause a war? Wah.

In another section, Mahbabani asks if China is expansionist, as the Americans have claimed. He obliquely responds rhetorically, Is capitalism inherently expansionist? Did America push capitalism on China? Has China shown it can play the game with equal skill, while keeping pleasing its citizens with true upward mobility and market opportunity, while keeping chaos at bay? What do you think, reader, he seems to ask. As far as Mahbabani is concerned, modern China is destined to make inroads into Europe, where the Monguls failed, due to one historian’s account, by getting bogged down by mosquitoes and malaria. Mahbabani writes, America is trying to create a pretext for military engagement with China, by claiming it is flexing its muscles, especially in the South China Sea.

In another section, Mahbabani wonders if America can make a “U-turn” away from its profligate and totally unnecessary military spending. He suggests that China looks at America the way the latter looked at the Soviets who wasted so much GDP on weaponry it helped collapse the USSR. “It is in China’s national interest for this irrational and wasteful defense spending to continue,” writes Hababani. America is locked into an “irrational processes it cannot break away from.” He gives an example of their two approaches: “An aircraft carrier may cost $13 billion to build. China’s DF-26 ballistic missile, which the Chinese media claims is capable of sinking an aircraft carrier, costs a few hundred thousand dollars.”

Another chapter asks: Should China Become Democratic? Mahbabani wonders the same about America? While the US considers regime change in China, Mahbababi writes,

Since I live in the neighborhood, I can say with some confidence that most of China’s neighbors would prefer to see China led by calm and rational leaders, like Xi Jinping, and not by a Chinese version of Donald Trump or Teddy Roosevelt.

In a surprise suggestion to the West, he adds, that for China, and its millenia long history of emperors, “a nondemocratic CCP could do long-term calculations on what would be good for China and the world.” But, of course, there are those in America, who will ignore what Nixon said about sovereign nations. “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people,” Kissinger said before socialist Allende was popped.

Mahbabani closes with a section on American hypocrisy, which falls on deaf ears, as it does with any realpolitik empire. So, sue me, they say. Mahbabani closes with A Paradoxical Conclusion, the nub of which is that imminent conflict is “inevitable” and yet “avoidable.” Why? Hubris. Always, it’s the hubris. Who will win? Look at the title? What do you think? Mahbabani asks rhetorically.

If Has China Won? has a major flaw it is that it presumes that China’s global victory by economic expansion is a victory. We are learning that we are in late stage capitalism, and that the endless expansion of economic growth in light of diminishing resources, proliferating population growth, and imminent climate catastrophe, is not a healthy response to reality. To his credit, however, Mahbabani does suggest that if the two superpowers could find a way around their dangerous political impasse they might be able to come together and lead the world out of some of its impending crises.

Pass the bong.

Moore’s Law of Entropy

There is but one freedom, to put oneself right with death. After that, everything is possible.

— Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1942-51

For those of us who grew up watching Charlton Heston films, we can recall enactments of heroic courage, both in the early development and later downward decline of human civilization. Heston gave us a magnificent Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), returning all scraggly from the wilderness, like some people I knew in the Sixties returning from poetry communes, holding up that Decalogue in revolutionary resistance to the gold lust of Baal. He refused to be a slave in Ben Hur (1959). He gave us a Live Free or Die kind of ethos. No debt slavery, no bondage of any kind.

Toward the end of his career, Heston got dyspeptic over gun control and dystopic in his roles, teaming up with Edward G. Robinson (his last film role) in Soylent Green (1973) as Detective Thorn, a contraband-sniffing cop for the State in a world catastrophically fucked up by climate change and overpopulation and resorting to cannibalism (recycled humans, get it?) that he has a late epiphany as he watches his good friend, Sol, old enough to remember beauty, die by euthanasia, fading to a surround screen explosion of splendor and Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony. He’s been told stories by Sol, but Thorn has never seen this before and he weeps, as if to say: My god, that’s the way it used to be?

But arguably his most important role came a few years earlier in Planet of the Apes, where he plays astronaut George Taylor, who, inadvertently time travels, and comes to realize that he’s landed on the future Earth controlled by fascist orangutans. Who can forget the final beach scene, Lady Liberty buried in sand, while an epiphanal Taylor exclaims, “Goddamn you all to hell!” When I remember his roles as a revolutionary, and an orbiter, I’m almost willing to cut him some slack for his last role, before dying, as president of the National Rifle Association, where he promised you’d have to pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands.” (Damn, the way things are going, we may need those 400 million guns after all.)

Apparently, the Taylor role is the one Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs chose to remember for Planet of the Humans, a recently released film on the politics of things Green and the looming environmental catastrophe ahead, once we knock back Covid-19 with some more Happy Zoom and recreational therapy Corona mask decorations. The film is written and directed by Gibbs; Moore was executive producer. The film was released on YouTube, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (remember Earth?), and was available for viewing for free, until “controversy” over 4 seconds of Fair Use footage caused the film to be pulled by Google. It has since been put up, in its entirety, on Vimeo, without incident thus far.

As we recall, the last time Moore and Heston came head-to-head was in Bowling for Columbine (2002), and things got ugly during the interview, with Moore shooting his mouth off about Heston’s gun rhetoric, but not so much guns themselves (Moore is a member of the NRA). The question is: Why did Moore and Gibbs bring back Heston from the dead to ‘headline’ their environmental film? The answer is simple: Astronaut Taylor realized that They went ahead and did it: They blew up the planet despite years of warnings of impending catastrophe. And Moore and Gibbs are promoting the notion in their new film that we’re an environmental flashpoint away from a planet ruled by fascist orangutans. (Trump as omen.)

As you could almost guess from the title, the film wants to show and explain to us what happens when one species — guess which one — takes over the planet and shits repeatedly in its own well-feathered bed. Well, it’s a Michael Moore film (executive producer), so you can probably see where the film goes, after an opening sequence where passersby are asked the loaded gun of a question: How much longer do you think the human race has? Typically, no one has a clue. Then the soundtrack vibes somber synthetic, Gibbs’ voice-over all disillusioned monotone. Recalls Fahrenheit 9/11. Another bummer rant from Moore ahead.

According to Rolling Stone, “Moore and Gibbs said they decided to release it now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the hopes of getting people to reflect on ‘the role humans and their behavior have played in our fragile ecosystem.’” This hope seems promising, on the surface, where most of us interface and internet, and so many people have already expressed wonderment at how much the world will have changed while we’ve been in ‘lockdown’. Prisoners opine that way: I wonder how the world will be, without me, in 5 to10.

But, we have people expressing the sentiment after just two months of half-assed ‘self-isolation’ (though increased internet activity). The New Yorker has weighed in for the comfy middle class. Psychology Today speaks for the masses. Yesterday, I watched masked baseballers play in an empty stadium (big screens inexplicably lit up) and thought I was hallucinating: How come this vision (of the future) doesn’t scare the shit out of us? (Plus, these guys like to spit: Yuck, when they remove their masks!)

Planet of the Humans is a tone poem more than a documentary. The vision is in the title. It suggests not so much defeatism as disturbing resignation in the face of Climate Change. Moore and Gibbs argue that We Just Don’t Get It: The much ballyhooed “transition” from an age of fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy is illusory, ineffectual, and too late. The “intermittent” technologies – Solar and Wind – as well as, biomass burning, will never be fully removed from fossil fuel dependency and/or usage. Even if these technologies have improved exponentially in the last decade (when the film was being produced), we humans should be spending our time preparing for the now-unavoidable climate apocalypse ahead. As far as Gibbs and Moore are concerned, pushing renewables at this stage is little more than stylin’ out Covid face masks.

And, yes, recognized leaders of the environmental movement – Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Sierra Club – even if not personally cashing in, have, by partnering with venture capitalists (like Goldman Sachs), corporates and other oil-associated companies, put the “problem” into the hands of private interests and reduced the role of public policymaking. As far as the filmmaking pair are concerned, putting the problem into the controlling hands of capitalists is exactly the wrong thing to do because their interest is growth and profit, not public interest, or, it seems, the fate of the human race. With the global population expanding, almost out of control, with a projected 11.7 billion people by 2100. Prodded by Gibbs, Penn State, anthropologist, Nina Jablonsky, tells us that population growth “continues to be not the elephant, but the herd of elephants in the room.”

Planet begins by reminding the viewer that we’ve had plenty of warning about disastrous climate upheaval. Gibbs inserts a clip from the 1958 Frank Capra movie, The Unchained Goddess, which graphically warns Americans of flooding that will greatly reduce the land mass. It’s not so wonderful a life anymore. Mother Nature standing behind us on a wintry snow-driven bridge telling us to Jump, after giving us a vision of how much Earth would have been better off if we’d never existed.

It’s clear that Planet is a deeply personal film, and Gibbs begins by laying down some street cred. Observing, as a child, some bulldozers taking down woods near his home, Gibbs lets us know he put sand in one of their gas tanks. More contrite, perhaps, he wonders, “Why are we still addicted to fossil fuels?” And he follows the Green movement to understand and to participate in the Pushback. There’s movement forward. 2008 Obama. A stimulus bill with billions for renewable energy development. (Hope, Change). Al Gore’s brought in for some inconvenient rah-rah. End Coal rah-rah. The New Green Economy rah-rah. Bill McKibben. 350.org. Sierra. The Chevy Volt. Rah-rah-rah. Give me a G. Give me an R. Give me an E. Give me an E. Give me an N. GREEN!

But then Gibbs’s anxiety creeps in (the Moore Uncanny with music) and suddenly he’s interviewing well-meaning ‘folk’ giving us the ta-dah! on the Chevy Volt, an electric car that will lead us into the future, no more mean Mr. Carbon. But how are they recharged? They’re plugged into the coal-powered grid, just like your toaster. And you can almost hear the bagpipe crumple into a bummed out wheeze. On to solar arrays. More despondent bagpipes. A ‘folk’ person tells us the football field sized array before us generates enough electricity to power an underwhelming “10 homes” per annum. Getting worked up, Gibbs reminds us that renewables are intermittent and that we can’t count on sun and wind in most places, and we need to have storage, and storage means dependency. In short, there are “profound limitations of solar and wind, rarely discussed in the media.”

Suddenly, we’re being sold a bill of goods by the snakes of Oil and mining; we’re Koch suckers, who believe we can frack (XL) and mine our way to private Paradise. The manufacture of solar panels and other materials that are not renewable replacements. Gibbs gives us a list of the elements unearthed in name of sustainability and renewableness. We are daunted: silicon, graphite, rare earths, coal, steel, nickel. sulphur hexaflouride, tin, gallium, cadmium, lead, ethylene vinyl acetate, neodymium, dyprosium, indium, ammonium fluoride, molybdenum, sodium hydroxide, petroleum. Sweet Jesus!

“It was becoming clear,” he tells us, “that what we are calling green renewable energy and industrial civilization are one and the same. Desperate measures not to save the planet, but to save our way of life. Desperate measures, rather than face the reality that humans are experiencing the planet’s limits all at once.” And he blames the direction that Greenies are now heading in on sell-outs in the ranks and co-optations by the Cappies. Bill McKibben gets enveloped in extra insinuating mood music because he once championed biomass energy and is caught on camera saying, “Woodchips is the future of energy…It must happen everywhere!” Though McKibben has since recanted, Gibbs is all bongos because McKibben’s enthusiasm got the Koch brothers involved. They own Georgia-Pacific, and “are now the largest recipient of green energy biomass subsidies in the United States.” Lawd, almighty!

Gibbs saves some of his best speed bag work for the face of self-appointed Environmental Savior, Al Gore. The Could-Have-Been-President-Had-He-Fought-A-Little-Harder is taken to task for selling his Current TV news company to Al Jazeera, for “that government is nothing but an oil producer,” and Gore picked up the tidy sum of $100m (pre-tax), and he has crowed about how “proud of the transaction” he was. Later Night show hosts lay into his hypocrisy. He doesn’t care.

Gore once claimed to have “created” the Internet because he was part of the Congressional committee that extended funding for ARPANET (the internet’s precursor), which is like tossing some coins into busker Tracey Chapman’s hat and taking credit for her later success. Later, two internet pioneers, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, trying to smooth things over said, Gore “helped create the climate,” which is when Gore got cluey and created the Environmental Movement, in his own mind. Look at the obese beaver get called out by Richard Branson.

Again, Planet of the Humans is a tone poem that begins where astronaut Taylor’s lamentations leave off. Gibbs consults anthropologists and psychologists to explain the mental limitations preventing us from getting it. “What differentiates people from all other forms of life is that we’re not only here, but we know that we’re here. If you know that you’re here, then you recognize, even dimly that you’ll not be here some day,” Sheldon Solomon, social psychologist at Skidmore College tells us. “And on top of that, we don’t like that we’re animals. So we don’t like that we’re going to die someday. We don’t like that you can walk outside and get hit by a fucking meteor.” Like the fuel-producing dinosaurs did. Or Climate Change for us. What a fucking feedback loop.

Gibbs closes the film with an appeal, or closing argument, of sorts to viewers, and it’s probably best to let it speak for itself:

There is a way out of this. We humans must accept that infinite growth on a finite planet is suicide. We must accept that human presence is already far beyond sustainability. And all that that implies. We must take control of our environmental movement and our future from billionaires and their permanent war on Planet Earth. They are not our friends. Less must be the new more. And instead of climate change we must at long last accept that it is not the carbon dioxide molecule that’s destroying the planet — it’s us….

This is the nub: We are looking for scapegoats instead of acting radically to save ourselves from extinction. Far from being outliers with their view, the New Yorker’s Jonathan Franzen asks the very same questions the film queries and responds: “What If We Stopped Pretending?

Apparently as anticipated, criticism from fellow Greenies came fast and furious. Though, if you were inclined, you could have pointed out that Moore/Gibbs films have been for years more psychodrama in their approach than documentarian in, say, the mode of Ken Burns; suddenly, fellow environmentalists were complaining vociferously about the accuracy of Moore’s films. Nobody has been more reactive, so far, than Bill McKibben. It’s clear he feels personally bushwhacked. In a Rolling Stone piece, “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal,” he bitterly denounces the film’s ethos and damage it is said to have done to the Movement, and avers that it was not only made “in bad faith,” but “dishonorably.” Ouch.

“Basically, Moore and his colleagues have made a film attacking renewable energy as a sham and arguing that the environmental movement is just a tool of corporations trying to make money off green energy,” says McKibben, and continues, “The film’s attacks on renewable energy are antique, dating from a decade ago, when a solar panel cost 10 times what it does today; engineers have since done their job, making renewable energy the cheapest way to generate power on our planet.” It short, the science cited in the film is bad, he says. Gibbs wants to raise consciousness, says McKibben, “But that’s precisely what’s undercut when people operate as Moore has with his film. The entirely predictable effect is to build cynicism, indeed a kind of nihilism. It’s to drive down turnout — not just in elections, but in citizenship generally.”

McKibben also defends his previous championing of biomass energy, saying, “I thought it was a good idea [at the time],” but, he goes on, “And as that science emerged, I changed my mind, becoming an outspoken opponent of biomass. (Something else happened too: the efficiency of solar and wind power soared, meaning there was ever less need to burn anything.)” So, McKibben may justifiably feel as if he’s been called to task for a view he no longer holds. But he’s most irate about the insinuation that he’s a “sell out.” McKibben feels the need to spend much space in the Rolling Stone piece defending his record of achievement over the years. And this may be entirely unfair to his activism.

However, McKibben may be off when he says little science is at play in Planet of the Humans. While it’s true that it relies heavily on anthropological and psychological considerations (because that’s really the concern of the film), Moore and Gibbs do cite a relevant study by Richard York, a much-lauded professor of environmental studies at Oregon State University, who published a peer-reviewed article in Nature magazine, “Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels?” His answer is No, not really. Other pieces there suggest similar findings, such as York’s more recent article, co-written with Shannon Elizabeth Bell, “Energy transitions or additions?: Why a transition from fossil fuels requires more than the growth of renewable energy” and the Patrick Trent Greiner (et alia) piece, “Snakes in The Greenhouse: Does increased natural gas use reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal consumption?” They say, No, not really.

In a private communique to me, York clarifies how his work was used in the film, “My research that Gibbs draws on found that in recent decades, nations that have added more non-fossil energy sources don’t typically reduce their fossil fuel use substantially (controlling for economic growth etc.) relative to nations that don’t add a lot of non-fossil energy. Thus, it’s not a simple case where there is a fixed energy demand so that adding renewables necessarily pushes out fossil energy, but rather adding energy sources is typically associated with rising energy consumption.” So, again Gibbs and Moore, if somewhat inarticulately, are drawing attention to renewables a s an expansion of energy options without a significant drop in the use of fossil fuels. “I find the movie frustrating,” writes York, “because I don’t think they do a good job of articulating a vision for action.”

Even a recent Guardian article meant to defend McKibben and the environmental movement against the slights of Planet accidently, it seems, underlined Gibbs’s point. Oliver Milman links to a study touting the extraordinary increase of efficiency in renewable technology designs – a study that brags, “Decarbonization of electric grids around the world by an average of about 30% will result in approximately 17% lower battery manufacturing emissions by 2030.” This, to Gibbs and Moore, is merely improvement (and only a best guesstimate at that) and insufficient for the long haul. Milman writes, “Scientists say the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 to head off disastrous global heating, which would likely spur worsening storms, heatwaves, sea level rise and societal unrest.” By 2050. That’s exactly why Moore and Gibbs seem to be throwing in the towel. That’s not going to happen.

Moore and Gibbs have put together a sober and quiet response to the reactions of fellow environmentalist against Planet of the Humans. (You could argue that the 17 minute discussion is better than their film.) Once done with watching Planet and listening to rebuttals and getting dismayed, you may want to pull an Edward G. and have a lounge-down with a bev or bone and remember how much you love Being and Nature by watching the Qatsi Trilogy at Documentary Heaven. You could start with Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance. A Palate cleansing after a hard-to-swallow reality check.

Or you could go the whole Earth Abides route, and prefer to see it the late George Carlin’s way. Cynical, but realistic, for a species that just doesn’t seem to give a shit about most things for very long. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as T.S. Eliot puts it. Of course, Carlin’s Way is unavailable to anyone with a family.

88 Days of Hell for the Family Jewell

By the late-90s we must have sensed that the shit was hitting the fan. The fire at Waco. The Unabomber envelopes. The downing of Flight 800. The World Trade Center bombing. Blowjobs in the White House. Oklahoma City. Tokyo’s subway sarin attack. The Khobar Towers bombing blamed on bin Laden. The ascent of Atlanta’s radio jockstrap Sean Hannity to national status on Roger Ailes’ newly established Fox News Network. OJ taking off the gloves. Rodney King wondering if we could all just get along. Cruise missiles on Bosnia on the eve of Clinton’s impeachment for blowjobs. Distracted from distraction by distraction, as T.S. Eliot famously put it, years before Karl Rove’s prosaic promise to fuck with reality-based thinking in the wake of 9/11.

As if America didn’t have enough problems, a foot soldier in the Army of God was afoot in the wee hours of July 27, 1996 at Centennial Park in Atlanta, where the Olympics were winding up for the night. Eric Rudolph, formerly of the Army of Exceptionalism — he’d been a special ops soldier in the Airborne 101 — was strolling near some benches behind the park, wearing a green backpack. There were dozens of people milling about. Rudolph sat on a bench and surreptitiously opened his backpack and set a timer on a huge bomb and placed the pack under the bench, then walked away hurriedly. No one saw him.

Rudolph rushed to a phone bank outside a Days Inn a couple of blocks away from the park and called in the bomb threat to 911. He used a plastic device to disguise his voice, and then, according to Kent Alexander’s account in the recently released book, The Suspect, the following took place: Rudolph said, “‘We defy the order of the militia …’ Click. The line went dead. The 911 operator had disconnected him.” Disconcerted at not being taken seriously, Rudolph called back, disguising his voice by pinching his nose, and said: “‘There is a bomb in Centennial Park. You have thirty minutes.’ He hung up. The call lasted thirteen seconds.” Confusion followed, with the 911 operator unable to find the Olympic Park address. Transcripts show insufficient urgency followed:

Dispatcher:  Zone 5.

911 Operator:  You know the address to Centennial Park?

Dispatcher:  Girl, don’t ask me to lie to you.

911 Operator:  I tried to call ACC, but ain’t nobody answering the phone … but I just got this man called talking about there’s a bomb set to go off in thirty minutes in Centennial Park.

Dispatcher:  Oh Lord, child. Uh, OK, wait a minute. Centennial Park, you put it in and it won’t go in?

911 Operator:  No, unless I’m spelling Centennial wrong. How are we spelling Centennial?

Dispatcher:  C-E-N-T-E-N-N-I—how do you spell Centennial?

911 Operator:  I’m spelling it right, it ain’t taking.

Valuable time expired, and the bomb squad, when they were finally called to the scene, had insufficient time to properly clear the area before the bomb went off.

At the start of Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Richard Jewell, the title character is followed by the director as he makes his rounds as an AT&T security guard outside a busy Centennial Park. Goofy and overstuffed, he is immediately seen as an oddball. Offering water to a pregnant woman in such a way that, though thanking him for it, she eyeballs him suspiciously. He confronts a group of drinking teens who diss him. On his way to get help, he sees the bomb under the bench. He asks passersby if the pack belongs to them. Alarmed, he alerts the assigned police crew, urging them to take action immediately, seemingly certain the pack is loaded. Bystanders are pushed to safety by Jewell, and others, when the bomb booms.

Paul Walter Hauser plays the complex character of Jewell, who’s not as dumb as he looks (or sometimes acts), and who gets caught up in a media frenzy that is fuelled by the wild speculation of a misinformed newspaper reporter, played by Olivia Wilde, and the entrapping tactics of the FBI — John Hamm playing the principle scofflaw fed. As the world comes at Jewell like a viral contagion, annihilating his privacy and reputation, he is buoyed up by his mother, played by Kathy Bates (in an Oscar-nominated supporting role) and Sam Rockwell as Watson Bryant, his lawyer and friend.

There’s been considerable controversy over the film’s depiction of the newspaper reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC), Kathy Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde. Eastwood has taken heat for her depiction, but he didn’t write the screenplay. The script is based upon Marie Brenner’s Vanity Fair article, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” and The Suspect, Alexander and Selwen’s account of the bombing and its aftermath — including police investigations and news reporting.  Only the latter sets up the scene where Scruggs allegedly received the confirmation from police that Richard Jewell was the primary suspect.

In The Suspect, Scruggs meets up with her source (unrevealed) at a bar — “someone she had known over the years. The source was about as plugged in as it got. She got down to business.” She was seated across from her source, and there was no hanky-panky:

The meeting was strictly off the record—that was understood. They ordered drinks, made small talk. After a few minutes, Scruggs asked the question. Are there any new suspects? Yes, the reply came back. One. “It’s Richard Jewell.” Scruggs’s heart pounded. Bingo. Jewell, the hero. Until now.”

To this day, this source is unknown, although Alexander and Selwen drop a couple of insinuating names in a couple of places.

Compare the Suspect scene above with the screenplay version (45-6) written by Billy Ray.  In Ray’s account, Scruggs comes across as an eager beaver, who’ll do anything to get the scoop. Here’s how she’s depicted in the film:

Kathy:

I wouldn’t run it unless I had independent corroboration from a second source. That would put us in a different zone, as you know. (her hand drifting) Tom. You’re about to burst.

She leans in — that open blouse. He’s hard as an anvil.

Shaw:

First time in my life I ever wished I was gay.

Kathy smiles… then Shaw gives it up:

Shaw:

The Bureau’s looking at the security guard. Jewell.

WHOA. Kathy freezes. Did I hear that wrong? Nope.  Trying to calm herself, she takes out her notepad.

The scene’s sexual banter is significantly longer in the film. There’s no question that it makes Scruggs look sleazy.  But it’s also a condensed, slightly spiced up sum of all parts which Alexander and Selwel suggest throughout The Suspect. Is it Eastwood’s role to change a script for fairness to perceived reality?  While Richard Jewell is based on actual events, Eastwood never pretends that his movie is “journalistic,” the way Katherine Bigelow did for Zero Dark Thirty. Did Scruggs sleep with cops to get information? The film says Yes, and The Suspect says Maybe (with a wink).

But Marie Brenner, in her Vanity Fair piece, “American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell,” draws attention to a far more damaging assault on Scruggs’ reputation — the question of attribution in her story on Jewell and her reliance on ‘Voice of God’ journalism.  Her lede reads:

The security guard who first alerted police to the pipe bomb that exploded in Centennial Olympic Park is the focus of the federal investigation into the incident that resulted in two deaths and injured more than 100.

Well, says who? Further defamatory sentences follow (here is the article) — without any attribution at all. It’s the Voice of God at work. Ironically, VOG was AJC’s rule: they’d “essentially banned” the expression “sources said” because readers might believe a quote was “fabricated.”

Brenner opens up the possibility that there was no source, per se, at all. And this line is taken further by Alexander and Selwen when they allude to the 1984 LA Olympics Turkish Bus bomb — planted by the ‘heroic’ officer who found the bomb. It may be, The Suspect suggests, that Scruggs had been given the hero-bomb anecdote and ran with it, in her passion to be the one who broke the story. Alexander and Selwen cite previous admonishments: “She was so eager to run with what trusted sources disclosed to her that editors often had to slow her down until she got more corroborating details.” Maybe there was no secondary corroboration.

The worst thing of all is that Jewell didn’t find out that he was a suspect until the AJC piece broke and went wild across the local and national airwaves. Overnight he went from a profile in courage to the profile of a loser — and, if he was imitating the LA ‘bomb hero, not particularly original either. None of it makes Scruggs look good as a reporter. But the AJC, believes the film has gone too far in portraying her as a quid pro quo “floozy,” and in “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs,” Jennifer Brett complains that the harsh appraisal of Scruggs’ journalism is not balanced. She cites Scruggs’s brother, Lewis, who recalls, “… She was proud the FBI called her about Jewell. She was proud of the way she reported it to begin with.” But she shouldn’t have been proud.

The FBI did a disgraceful job handling the bombing, starting with director Louis Freeh, who micromanaged the investigation, and may have pushed the notion that Jewell be regarded as the prime suspect to his underlings in Atlanta — suspicions drawn from false profiling. It continued with the leak to Scruggs. But the most despicable thing they did was their attempt to entrap Jewell in a fake interview during which they hoped to extract information that ‘only the bomber could know.’ Jewell caught on, called a lawyer, and sought solace and protection behind his forceful and articulate mother, Bobi (played by Kathy Bates). Eventually the FBI conducted an internal investigation of their handling of Jewell, although the FBI later admitted, “We never went after the leak.”

Ultimately, it may be that it was FBI director Louis Freeh’s actions that were under-scrutinized in the half-assed investigation that followed. In The Suspect, Alexander and Selwen make clear that Freeh was calling the shots from Washington, and that he may have pushed the ‘bomb hero’ scenario on the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) of the agency, forcing them to push out a false profile — without independently gathered evidence. Scruggs used their “lone bomber” profile, even though she should have known that Jewell couldn’t have been at the scene and making phone calls up the road — at the same time. He would have needed an accomplice, negating the “lone bomber” theory.

Richard Jewell might have perished emotionally or even have ended up imprisoned for the bombing, if not for his mother’s courage and ability to sway the media, as well as Watson Bryant, his lawyer, who is there when Jewell needs him, yanking back the naive and over-talkative suspect from FBI entrapment. Everyone seemed to be coming at him in his 88 day ordeal, before he was cleared. Not only was there the usual swarming rush to judgement, stoked by the sensationalist media, but he was viciously turned on, suddenly going from hero to goat. NBC Late Show host Jay Leno, was particularly horrid, referring to Jewell as “Una-doofus,” while he was a suspect, and calling him later, after he was cleared, “white trash.”

In the end, as we all know now, Eric Rudolph was arrested almost seven years later, for bombing a gay bar and two abortion clinics. In a plea bargain deal, he also copped to the Olympic Park bombing. Rudolph, an ex 101st Airborne special ops soldier, was a survivalist who went on the lam for five years after the Centennial bombing. He claimed that he was motivated in his bombings by hatred of gays, abortion, and general government over-reach. He fit the profile of a “lone bomber”.

Back in Jennifer Brett’s recent AJC piece, “The Ballad of Kathy Scruggs,” which seeks to correct the image presented of the reporter in the Clint Eastwood film, a friend, Tony Kiss, defends Scruggs, “She was never at peace or at rest with this story. It haunted her until her last breath,” Kiss said. “It crushed her like a junebug on the sidewalk.”

It’s ironic that both Jewell and Scruggs had a thing for cops — and in both cases they were let down, at great cost to their lives and reputations. The event produced a convergence of ill-will and evil rarely seen:  media manipulations, police corruption, political and social reactionaries, insensitive Late Show jokes, a Christian terrorist who likes to blow people to Kingdom Come, frenzy and sensationalism.

Neither ever recovered. Jewell died aged 44; Scruggs died at 43.

Doublethink Doublethink: It’s Two Thinks in One!

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

— O’Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock’em-sock’em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam — held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces — Oceania and Eastasia — have gone from Cold to Hot.

Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn’t felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage — telling Gorby to “tear down that [Berlin] wall,” touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan’s flippant words (“the bombing begins in five minutes”) put the Soviets on edge — and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).

But it wasn’t all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump — Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached das kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese — and borschtroot — and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.

Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation — the president (“Fake News”), the MSM (“Putin’s Puppet”), the People (“they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn’t tell the difference”). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump’s 2017 Inauguration, “US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller.”

Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the “‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.’” It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with “alternative facts.” Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey’s citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the “doublethink” gobbledygook of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.

Like Dorian Lynskey’s previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell’s masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).

In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell’s creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces “the political and cultural life” of the novel, from Orwell’s death to Trump’s Inaugural.

Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. “The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would,” Lynskey writes, “but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him.” He’d come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil — writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness — but “[w]hat he found was ‘a bad copy of 1914–18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.’”

Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered “that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.” However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes, “Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.” A ‘cleansing egalitarianism’ (Brotherhood) is a key theme in his dystopian novel.

In another incident helpful to his fiction, he refused to shoot a fascist with his pants down, mooning melancholically, and noting of the brotherly Francophile that he was “visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” while he’s shitting. But in a later incident, Orwell is so rattled by a rodent that he opens fire, “thus alerting the enemy and triggering a fierce firefight,” that was nearly catastrophic to his comrades in arms. Rats turn out to be Winston Smith’s greatest fear, at the end of the novel, and the means to breaking down his ego.

Probably the biggest disappointment Orwell took away from the war was the behavior of the communists; he’d served with a Marxist militia unit (POUM) and saw their atrocities close up. Lynskey wonders:

Why did Orwell criticise communism so much more energetically than fascism? Because he had seen it up close, and because its appeal was more treacherous. Both ideologies reached the same totalitarian destination but communism began with nobler aims and therefore required more lies to sustain it.

The left hand of the Right clasped, behind the back, the right hand of the Left, in any photo shoot together — if you looked hard enough.

Orwell began reading up on Stalin’s regime, including American journalist Eugene Lyon’s description of Stalin’s Five Year plan, which included “the nose-thumbing arithmetic” of “2+2 = 5,” which is so crucial to Winston Smith’s brainwashing. He read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, whose depictions of purges and show trials (think, Goldstein, and, later, Winston Smith) further amplified his contempt for Stalin and his fear of totalitarianism. The two world wars, I and II, with the Great Depression in between, had drained civilization of its hope, vitality and wherewithal. Out of the morass rose ogres — Franco, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and arguably even Truman (if you counted the dread that the questionable use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented) — as if to finish us off.

However, no one had a greater influence on Orwell’s generation than the literary colossus, H.G. Wells. Prolific, prescient, extraordinarily innovative, and widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction (Mary Shelley just rolled over in her grave, uneasily), in some ways Wells was the perfect tonic for an age that had torn humanity apart with with world wars, tyranny, and economic misery disseminated across the globe.

“Wells predicted space travel, tanks, electric trains, wind and water power, identity cards, poison gas, the Channel tunnel and atom bombs,” writes Lynskey, “and popularised in fiction the time machine, Martian invasions, invisibility and genetic engineering.” He also developed notions of a “World Brain” and anticipated the World Wide Web (sorry, TimBL). Further, he was a force behind the establishment of the League of Nations. Wells was an inspiration in a time stuck in the human morass described by T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.

Wells, in turn, was inspired by early readings of Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, all of which required the reader to imagine with the narrator an alternative or new-and-improved world. Thus, Wells bequeathed us The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Outline of History, The Shape of Things to Come, and an enormous trove of essays and other public writings with enormous influence. All of these were enormously important to Orwell as he developed his own utopian visions.

But Orwell had seen what he’d seen in Spain, and knew the dark heart of Uncle Joe Stalin, and was, writes Lynskey, like “many writers [of his generation] consumed by the idea of decadence and decline.” H.G. Wells’ cautionary utopianism didn’t quite cut it for the lot of them. “It is no exaggeration to say that the genre of dystopian fiction evolved as it did because so many people wanted to prove H. G. Wells wrong,” Lynskey writes. There seemed to be something of the Wagner-Nietzsche competitive intimacy in Orwell’s approach to the Genius; while Wells emphasized Siegfried, Orwell and friends were all about the Götterdämmerung.

Orwell was a social democrat at heart, but he longed for something deeper and more radical, which seems to be why he was so devastated by the failures of communism. Plato had taught him that if humanity could see the Good, and the error of their ways, uncovered by dialectical reasoning, they would pursue it naturally, out of self-interest. This melancholic view (that would later infuse Winston Smith’s experience of his world) gets reinforced when he comes across the work of American Edward Bellamy — specifically, Looking Backward — 2000 – 1887.

As Bellamy’s title suggests, the novel moves backward, progressively, towards the squalor and dehumanization of the early Industrial Revolution. Lynskey notes:

When he looked around at the United States of America in the Gilded Age Bellamy saw a “nervous, dyspeptic, and bilious nation,” wracked by grotesque inequality. Millionaire dynasties controlled the industrial economy, while the labouring classes worked sixty-hour weeks for low pay in unsafe factories and sweatshops, and lived in foul slums.

In the novel, the protagonist Julian West falls into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a “socialist utopia,” where crime is regarded as a medical problem treatable with drugs. This got Orwell thinking.

But perhaps the single most influential piece of literature that Orwell came across, in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, was Eugene Zumiatin’s We. As Lynskey points out, by coincidence Orwell had already completed an outline for his dystopian novel when he discovered Zumiatin’s work. They share some structural similarities: each features a fall guy who becomes the focussed target of hivemind hatred; a shy protagonist driven astray from his social programming by flashes of free thought and a sexually-liberated female; thought police (Guardians for Zumiatin), and forced mind-mending (from ‘I’ thinking to ‘We’ thinking). Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley nicked some ideas from We.

But Orwell had a turn at the accusation as well. Lynskey writes, “Karma came for Orwell in the form of several critics who accused him of plagiarising We.” But Lynskey dismisses them, insisting that the genre itself is rife with such borrowings and intertextuality. He answers historian Isaac Deutscher’s claims thusly:

[Deutscher] accused the author of borrowing “the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story” from We… [but] Deutscher wildly overstated the similarities between the novels. Two: as we have seen, Orwell had already written his outline months before he read We. Three: Orwell made repeated efforts to get Zamyatin’s novel republished in English…. surely not the kind of thing that plagiarists usually do.

So there. “Originality is a vexing concept in genre fiction,” Lynskey adds.

But Lynskey is even more caustic with Ayn Rand, one of Orwell’s more vocal critics. Writes Lynskey, “There are critics who insist that Ayn Rand could have written her 1938 novella Anthem without ever having read We, and good luck to them.” Rand penned the novella “in three weeks,” and, Lynskey claims, it “is We rewritten as a capitalist creation myth, with paradise as a building site…The book’s working title was Ego.” He clearly objects to her Objectivism. Talk about getting hoiked into your own spittoon.

Later in his life Orwell faced more pressing criticism than the question of whether he plagiarized Zumiatin. Perhaps, so traumatized by what he’d seen in Spain and saw happening in Stalin’s Russia, Orwell developed a list of 38 writers — communists or sympathizers — that he turned over to the Information Research Agency, a government agency, that he recommended they not hire because of questionable allegiance to the Labour party. Apologizing for this behavior, Lynskey writes, “It is legitimate to be disappointed by the very act of sending such a list to a government agency (even a Labour one), but the edited version was at least largely accurate.” Hmm.

Some critics were having none of that apology. Lynskey quotes Marxist historian Christopher Hill who opined, “I always knew he was two-faced. There was something fishy about Orwell…it confirms my worst suspicions about the man.” But the late great polemicist (“Beat the Devil”) Alexander Cockburn “couldn’t disguise his glee: ‘The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch, an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.” (His full article is a fun read.) Does this spell the end of Orwell’s Truth? Should we never read him again? I don’t know, but, when you think about it, Winston Smith’s character takes on new dimensions with this incident — that final betrayal of all you love and everything, and all its implicit future snitching to protect We.

However one feels about Orwells’ late-life failures, Nineteen Eighty-Four has exerted its familiarity and gravitas since his death in 1950. We are all familiar with the terms of our engagement with his work. Lynskey writes:

The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth.

Of those terms, perhaps the answer to the equation “2+2=” may be the most pertinent to the contemporary political situation we find ourselves facing in Washington and around the world. How would you answer, brother?

Nineteen Eighty-Four’s principal concerns have been reprised in Western culture, in one form or another, for decades. For example, Lynskey describes the “aviphobic” David Bowie’s fall into “paranoia and panic” in the 70’s and how it affected his work (his Diamond Dogs album was originally meant to be called 1984.) Bowie was not alone in his feelings of demise. “IRA bombs…stagflation…a miners’ strike…an Arab oil embargo…blackouts, petrol rationing, reduced television service, and non-functioning elevators, Britain began to feel like the opening pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” writes Lynskey. In the 80s, with the advent of personal computing, even commercials, such as Apple’s highly controversial ‘1984’ Super Bowl Ad, were produced to reflect a desire to break free from mind-imprisoning Conformity. In 1990, a film version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released, which extends the Orwellian vision into what could be a near-future reality.

Today, Oceania is otherwise known as Five Eyes, and Oceania moves in history in a world of the wars, never-ending, destruction by remote drones and online corporate-government profiling, leading toward neo-fascism or some new unthinkable form of totalitarianism. It remains to be seen when the public should have begun its Orwellian panic, whether it was in the aftermath of 9/11 — or sooner — or with the Carnivalesque decay of Exceptional Democracy. “We are an empire now. We make our own reality,” is attributed a coy Karl Rove, and it sounds like a celebration of doublethink, a movement in the direction of 2+2=5.

Lynskey wants to locate it with the Trump Inauguration, with the return of Doublethink and Newspeak. But he does remind the reader:

Orwell’s fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world” is the dark heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gripped him long before he came up with Big Brother, Oceania, Newspeak or the telescreen, and it’s more important than any of them.

Lynskey’s words are well-taken, but I believe we must beware that Trump might be Goldstein and that hating on him has been preordained.

Toward the end of his life H.G.Wells lost his mojo for mankind. In his last published work, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells wondered aloud, as it were, if it wasn’t time to replace the human species with something more evolutionarily desirable. Like Nietzsche, Wells seemed to long for a Zarathustrian Übermensch; he tired of being a tightrope walker in the largely indifferent marketplace of conventional ideas.

Five more years of Two-Minute hating on Trump should do it (maybe even just one). Like a soul orphaned in a mechanized world — like Winston Smith — I can almost hear a fat lady singing as it all comes out in the wash she’s hanging on the line:

Totallo!

Totallo!

I love ya

Totallo!

You’re always

A coup

A way!

Woof.

Mirror, Mirror on the World Who’s the Darkest of Them All?

Dunbar’s number, the famous estimate of how many relationships you can meaningfully maintain in life, is just 150.
— Edward Snowden, Permanent Record (2019)

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together
— The Beatles, “I Am The Walrus,” (1967)

Dot-Dash. Here-Gone. Off-On. In-Out/Out-In. One-Zero. 2B or 2B. Being and Nothingness. At the same time. Anal-Digi-Quanthump. The Dot Com lowers the boom. Fuck me, if I can follow; I need help. Is this AA; am I in the right place? It makes me think of what Eddie Snowden said last year in his illegal memoir, Isn’t “journalism about following the bread crumbs and connecting the dots? What else did reporters do all day, besides tweet?” (About the president’s tweets.)

They could start with the dot. A little dot’ll do ya. You, me, her. Them, especially Them. Connect the dots, degrees-of-separation style. Think of us all as synonyms and antonyms (fer me or agin me) and how definitions change, depending on who’s calling the narrative shots. Plug a word into the Visual Thesaurus (try Friend) and see what happens. Like Snowden wrote in Permanent Record,

We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.

It’s hard to get your head around — digitals dots of electromagnetic self, jittery particulates of consciousness, arrayed someWhere, forever. And the closer we get to total online hivemindedness (the Internet as a need), the closer we get to the self-conscious extinction of our species.

This all sounds hokey and hoochy and maybe even a little hallucinogenic. But think about it, reader. Recently, I was reading (and reviewing) a book on consciousness by Philip Goff, Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness, wherein he leads the reader toward a vision not-so-splendid:

[Integrated Information Theory] predicts that if the growth of internet-based connectivity ever resulted in the amount of integrated information in society surpassing the amount of integrated information in a human brain, then not only would society become conscious but human brains would be “absorbed” into that higher form of consciousness. Brains would cease to be conscious in their own right and would instead become mere cogs in the mega-conscious entity that is the society including its internet based connectivity.

Scary, true stuff in theory. But here’s the big question, as it approaches: Who’s in charge? Time to re-read your dogma-eared copy of The Portable Marx.

We need sure-footed sherpas for the Himalayas of heaped-up shit ahead. And that’s what Bart Gellman proposes to be in his new book, Dark Mirror: Edward Snowden and the American Surveillance State. Who’s in charge? The worry is built right into the title. We live now in a world divided by a pane of tinted glass behind which unseeable (but sensed) protectors of our Way of Life (whatever that means this week), without our permission, watch and store all of our activity — Internet and Mobile — as if we were little more than data points requiring constant scrutiny for signs of terrorism, -vertently or in-, and every dot-person we connect to will go into a special database when we visit Counterpunch magazine. (Too late, buy your buds a Bud and sheepishly apologize. They’ll smile, with revelations of their own, raising the ante: Hustler. Douché! now you’re in the Raunch database.)

Another question that comes up while reading Gellman’s book is the question of why the book now? Sad to say, it’s almost nine years since Snowden spilled the beans on what the Bastards are up to, and while his brilliant memoir last year served to plump up a thinking man’s pillow to sleep on, nobody seems to give a shit any more, again — a default position, it seems, in the postmod age. But Gellman seems unquieted by such indifference and is providing a long-overdue, and welcome, account of what makes Snowden run — from the point of view of a self-described mainstream journalist (he’s ‘free’ now, after many years at WaPo, where darkness has fallen on democracy).

I found it quite valuable for him to page-perform the political pressures and legal issues an MSMer was up against as he worked alone, and with journalistic rogues and renegades, such as Laura Poitrast, Glenn Greenwald, and even Julian Assange. Maybe Gellman was inspired by the film, Official Secrets, which features the hand-wringing of journos at the Observer in London as they report on a whistleblower’s leak (Katherine Gunn) proving the NSA’s attempts to get the GCHQ to extract kompromat from members of the UN Security Council in the lead-up to the vote on going to war with Iraq.

It’s good to know what struggles some newsroom journos go through to report on abuses by our elected political governors. If nothing else, such a struggle is unexpectedly uplifting to witness in an era when reporters are often likened to stenographers. The film played out the dramatic tension that exists between the public’s right to know and the government’s need for secrecy, ostensibly in order to protect its citizens from harm, which is what Gellman is interested in examining when he looks back at his meetings with Edward Snowden in 2013 and thereafter.

A key moment in all this wonderment came in 2004, just before the November presidential election. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote a blockbuster piece on mass surveillance in America for the New York Times that their Editorial Editor, Bill Keller, quashed, expressing, according to Risen later, a desire to avoid being an October Surprise for the upcoming election. Risen knocked back Keller’s argument, writing in the Intercept, “I pointed out that if he decided not to run the story before the election, that would also have an impact, but he seemed to ignore my comment.” Mass surveillance is not the same as some pol’s unwanted hand down a woman’s panties — revealed just before the election — it’s potentially a clear and present danger to democratic values; voters should’ve been allowed to factor in Bush’s surveillance.

In the piece, finally published in the Times more than a year later, in 2005, and only after Risen had informed them that he would be including the story in his upcoming book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, Ris and Lichtblau describe how the Bush administration,

Under four collection programs overseen by Vice President Cheney, the NSA and FBI began wide-ranging surveillance of internet and telephone communications within the United States.

It was unknown to the public; they had no idea that a secret program, known as STELLARWIND, existed, and that Bush authorized the comprehensive collection of all American communications without any kind of warrant, and with the full cooperation of telephone and internet providers.

The program raises many questions, among them, “Are citizens equipped to hold their government accountable?” writes Gellman. And, Risen adds that, sadly for democracy, the decision to exclude the piece may have come as a result of the personal friendship between NSA Director Michael Hayden and Philip Taubman, associate editor for national security issues at the Times: “Keller now says that Taubman’s relationship with Hayden played an important role in the decision to not run the story.” The NSA (Michael Hayden) and FBI (Robert Mueller) were in on this illegal activity. Snowden, Risen and Gellman all point out that this information on STELLARWIND would have come nine years before Snowden’s revelations, and, all agree, that the story’s suppression affected his later decision on how to publicize the information.

An unhappy Risen recalls that “the impact of the story was immediate and explosive. George W. Bush was forced to confirm the existence of the program, even as he called the leak of information about it a ‘shameful act.’” Federal agents were unleashed to hunt down the hoodoo everythere. Congress was professionally “outraged” that the Bush administration would have the chutzzies to hide such a program; they called investigations (later, they helped pass legislation that retroactively legalized Bush’s executive order and passed immunity to the telecoms for their role in the extra-constitutional activity). Bush justified his “terrorist surveillance program,” using Unitary Executive theory as his basis.

Turns out, it would have been a critical issue in the presidential campaign. As Snowden put it, “Had that article run when it was originally written, it might well have changed the course of the 2004 election.” (Hurts even more, when you consider that Greg Palast, in his new book, How Trump Stole 2020, purports that John Kerry was robbed of the presidency by vote manipulation.)

This is a lot of cyber ink spilled on the failings of the New York Times in October 2004 and Snowden’s revelations later — a long time ago — “but Dark Mirror is not a book about Snowden, or not only that,” writes Gellman. “It is a tour of the surveillance state that rose up after September 11, 2001, when the U.S. government came to believe it could not spy on enemies without turning its gaze on Americans as well.” He adds, “At its core this is a book about power.”

Gellman first heard of Snowden through independent filmmaker Laura Poitrast. He writes that “three days before Christmas 2010, she turned up unannounced at my office, just off Washington Square.” He had admired her film, My Country, My Country, which traced the failed attempt to install democracy under U.S. occupation in Iraq. She would later go on to win an Oscar for the documentary of her 2013 encounter with Snowden in Hong Kong, called CitizenFour.

Beginning in 2013, they began working together to determine whether a contact reaching out to them, and his alleged cache of top secret documents, were legitimate. He went by the name “Verax,” Latin for speaker of truth. Early on Gellman wonders,

Was her source the whistleblower he claimed to be? A fabricator who used public records to feign inside knowledge? A real intelligence analyst peddling fake intrigue? A half-informed official who misread something benign?

Gellman and Snowden didn’t hit it off right away, as Snowden was mistrustful of his MSM credentials, which he felt would lead to journalistic compromise and leave Snowden stranded with his story not properly told to the public (making a return to America impossible without facing Espionage charges.) Snowden wants to work with adversarial “voices.”

Gellman mentions how Snowden had been reaching out to Guardian blogger Glenn Greenwald. “Months of effort, however, had failed to elicit a reply from Greenwald,” writes Gellman, “who disregarded emails from Verax and a how-to video on encryption.” Thus begins Gellman’s ambivalence towards the personality that Greenwald is, in his militant advocacy for Constitutional integrity in government and his concomitant commitment to in-your-face spotlighting of congressional and presidential abuses.

It’s an amusing tension returned to several times. Greenwald has been especially effective highlighting the abuse of the pocket-writs called executive orders that Greenwald warned, before Trump arrived, could be catastrophic in the wrong exec’s hands. Uh-oh. But for all his genius, Gellman doesn’t seem to like Greenwald. He seems to be a bit of Luddite, slow to adopt encryption, and, Gellman thinks, a bit of a backstabber and a primadonald. It helps the reader to see such friction between two prize-winning journalists.

Gellman is not especially fond of Snowden when he meets him either. He’s been informed of Snowden’s personality from reading old forum posts Snowden made as TheTrueHOOHA on the Ars Technica website. He reads: “blended show-offy erudition, teenage irony, righteous anger, generous advice, and orthodox libertarian bromides.” And even reading Snowden’s memoir you can feel elements of that sort of vibe coming from Snowden. But there’s more to Snowden than Gellman seems to suggest, perhaps he’s nodding to the need to seem balanced.

For one thing, Snowden has a devilish sense of humor. Gellman misses out on some of the revealing anecdotal information Snowden offers up in his memoir. Snowden comes from Mayflower stock; his forebears fought in the Revolutionary Wars, and afterward “abolished their family’s practice of slavery, freeing

their two hundred African slaves nearly a full century before the Civil War.” Gellman fails to consider the place of that sale or government “expropriation” (Snowden suggests), and how that legacy might have informed his whistleblowing when he sees the Constitution at risk. Gellman seems to miss the supreme irony of knowing that the headquarters of the NSA was built right there where that slave plantation used to be. Pass the fuckin’ bong.

As egregious a violation of the Bill of Rights that the NSA’s STELLARWIND program was, using sneaky backdoor tactics to get around the limits imposed by their agency mandate (“incidentally” gathering up the data of Americans in their cyber trawls of potential foreign “enemies” numbering in the millions), another program, PRISM, went even further, and gives the lie to alibi that such trawls are anything but criminal and totalitarian in intention. Gellman writes,

In film and fiction, the NSA mostly listened in on telephone calls. PRISM had capabilities far beyond that…NSA analysts could not only review stored account information but also dial in and record live “audio, video, chat, and file transfers.” Analysts could ask for instant notifications when their targets logged on to Hotmail or AOL or Yahoo Messenger.

And with keystroke exploits thrown in, “They can literally watch your thoughts form as you type,” Snowden told Gellman.

Ultimately, as Gellman alluded to earlier, it’s all about the power. In his chompy sit-down interviews with the likes of Michael Hayden and James Clapper, and other apologists for benign totalitarianism, Gellman makes it clear that these men see no room for oversight, and can’t or won’t comprehend the ethical and constitutional limitations to what they are doing. They just want us to trust them and narrow-visioned patriotism. This turned Snowden off to a career of public service (in which he was following in the footsteps of his deep state parents). In his memoir, he describes his in-office participation in LOVEINT —

in which analysts used the agency’s programs to surveil their current and former lovers along with objects of more casual affection—reading their emails, listening in on their phone calls, and stalking them online.

If you’re sensitive and thoughtful, and still can’t trust yourself around such technology, then who can you trust?

Well, ultimately, Gellman and Snowden don’t trust and reject the power argument — that because we have such technology at our disposal we must use it, the capability of knowing what everybody’s up to (except the Bastards in power, of course). We see the Brennans, Clappers, Haydens, Bushes, Obamas and Trumps just lie about their excesses. They conjure up a world of enemies — for the sake of using dreadful technology without concern for privacy or democracy. A fascist drift into a world of dystopian psychotronic nightmares ruled by algorithmically-generated tailored gargoyles intent on turning us into things. Dots. And ultimately, Dots. Right inside our heads.