Friday, July 12, 2013

Post Script

This is not an addendum to the letter I recently wrote. But I think it's fair to say we are now having a healthy public debate about secrecy in government thanks to Edward Snowden. I am just responding to some specious arguments I continually encounter in the debate.Snowden's motives are his own. I don't pretend to know them all. Imagine something like the following scenario for a moment: Snowden has a secret past working for the NSA and CIA. Maybe he ate a baby for lunch one day or did something else very bad, one way or another. Of course he's not going to leak details about that, and potentially cost himself the goodwill he has amassed in the world. And neither will the powers that be, since perhaps revealing the information necessary to damn Snowden would implicate others. I admit this is possible, and that there are doubtless many other possible scenarios that could rob Snowden of his moral legitimacy as a whistleblower. Of course, this is the problem with secrecy. We may simply never know. I have feared since he first appeared that he would simply disappear or be assassinated by the U.S., and that still appears to be a grave danger. If I thought (as, I suspect, really no one on earth does; I don't even think the Obama administration is saying this) that he would receive a fair, decent, open, public trial on his return to the U.S., in accordance with the rule of law, a phrase his assailants are quick to invoke—I'd be all for his immediate return in order to get this all out in the open and understand who did what, and who is responsible and see justice served quickly. But yeah, that just ain't gonna happen. And anyway, in this country, you are still supposed to be innocent of any crime until proven guilty in a court of law (a real one, not this FISA kangaroo court business). So I reserve the right to change my opinion of Snowden and the whole matter, depending what facts come to light. For now, I will continue to give him the benefit of the doubt above any government on earth (that includes, for example, those who have offered him asylum). He is a whistleblower until he's proven to be a traitor. If you are happy to crucify someone secretly because your government says so, you don't deserve freedom.It is true that the administration of G.W. Bush is responsible for this state of affairs, and that this nascent police state is his legacy. Lots of voices from the center rightward in this country (which is to say, the Democratic and Republican Parties) say that we live in a different world now. “9/11 changed everything!” is their refrain. It's as though the majority of American citizens hated the U.S. Constitution and were just waiting for an excuse to set it alight and throw it out the window. Are we supposed to think that it just, essentially, ceased to exist or at least to be in any way relevant on September 12, 2001? I have often heard people respond this way when discussing violent crime. When they read in the paper of a heinous attack—or perhaps experience one themselves, or someone close to them does—they will say understandably emotional but horrific things like, “I don't think they should even have trials in cases like this.” I understand anger (I'm an angry old man, fer chrissake). But there are reasons that we have due process. I'll quote Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil again: The law protects the guilty as well as the innocent.There are ways we handle guilty parties in a free society. We do not burn them at the stake, tar and feather them. You'd think Snowden had bombed Washington, given the way his opponents excoriate him. We handle things in a way that preserves peace, freedom, fairness and, above all, justice. If you do not observe due process and give someone a fair, public trial, justice is not served. It doesn't matter how it comes out for your side. Justice means that right wins over wrong, not that America beats its opponents or that the streets are safe. No system is perfect. Real criminals notoriously get off on technicalities. That doesn't mean that you scrap due process or, you know, streamlinethe process by eliminating meaningful argument before a court that only ever hears the government's side to anything and conducts all its business in secret.And anyway, if you really just think that it's time we scrapped the Constitution because it's outdated (it is ancient, after all), then let's have that public debate and do that in a democratic way. Let's eliminate the Senate and the Electoral College. Or hell, why doesn't the President just suspend the Constitution if he's willing to cooperate with a court that secretly alters it to suit national security. Yes, the democratic process is extremely inconvenient. Too goddamn bad. Don't just declare that the old days of transparent democracy are over because you're afraid. America is not a gated community.I think one of the main reasons this argument doesn't really stick is that Americans have become unspeakably ignorant, largely due to the almost total absence of any meaningful universal education. Education in this country, at least the public primary and secondary variety, has always suffered. See, for example, Richard Hofstadter's marvelous 1962 Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Suffice it to say things have hardly gotten better since then. "There ain't no education going on up in that motherfucker," as Don Cheadle said in Bulworth. The absurd garbage that passes in public schools for education leaves the overwhelming majority of voters deeply confused about important practical matters like the function of a democratic society, the role of the Constitution and the rights of citizens (for starters). The reason Barack Obama is President is that a majority of American voters thought it would be better to have a beer with him than with John McCain or Mitt Romney. This is now the well-known litmus test for American Presidents. In the deepest ignorance about the structure of their own government, the significance of candidates' platforms or even their own rights, they choose leaders based solely on trust.So perhaps I should not be surprised at the vocal arguments I hear to the effect that I'm just supposed to trust the President and, you know, all the Democrats on the Congressional Intelligence Committees. My own Senator, Ron Wyden, is among them. I voted not only for the President, but for Sen. Wyden as well. Don't I trust them? Shouldn't I let my elected officials just do the jobs I, personally, elected them to do? Shouldn't I trust technocrats to go in and do what amounts to technical work: writing legislation, going to court, signing executive orders? I guess that's the argument.To some degree, I do trust the President. I voted for him twice, while holding my nose. I always consider casting a protest vote, but look where all those Nader votes got us in 2000 and 2004! But in fact, I think Obama has largely been a fine President and a rational individual (or I did until quite recently). And he is a magnificent breath of fresh air after eight years of the worst President in my lifetime. I thought his intentions were good to begin with, though I'm not entirely sure these days. I suppose the President never looked us in the eye and told us there was no secret, blanket surveillance of the American people. It was the DNI who did that. If Director Clapper were, jeez, at least slapped on the wrist, cited for Contempt of Congress, made to wear a funny hat and sit in the corner, I might think there were some commitment to open governance, and all this business about the “rule of law” might seem less comically hollow. But I mean, who expects a spymaster to tell the truth? Snark aside, that the President continues to defend this secrecy, and so do all his supporters, is maddening. All we continue to hear is: That's not the world we live in. It doesn't work that way any more. 9/11 changed everything. Repeat after me.... And so, I guess America (the ideal of freedom, justice and equality—not prosperity, privilege, outdoor recreation, homebrew and technical innovation) just dried up and blew away that day in 2001. No one even seemed to notice at first, and then any time anyone ever critiqued Bush, it was always the same mantra. 9/11 changed everything. That's not the world we live in.Nevertheless, this administration has demonstrated over the last few weeks that it is committed to secrecy at just about any cost. Does that not strike anyone as suspicious? Just because you're an Obama voter, you're willing to give up democratic principles that easily? OK, so for one moment suppose I suspend my objection to that. What frightens me most is what comes next. After all, I did more or less trust this President until recently. He would have been the last one I'd have expected to dramatically expand the surveillance state; hence my own shock and outrage. But shit, if he did it.... Are you so short-sighted that you think 2017 will never come? Whom will you be so eager to trust with your rights and freedom then? Are you going equally to defend the secret government of the next President? Assuming I'm speaking to Obama voters—what if it turns out to be a Republican? Or a really corrupt Democrat? Why are you so sanguine about this obvious erosion of our democratic society? Oh, right, I forgot. That's not the world we live in any more.It's a false dichotomy to suggest that, since there are no death squads running around in my neighborhood, and no state censors shutting down our Twitter-fest, that there's just nothing to worry about. “Hey,” some parties can be heard to say, “look, we have government secrecy, and things aren't so bad. What are you upset about?” If it were the same parties who defended Bush's initial disregard for the Constitution, I might chalk it up to simple disingenuousness. But this is now frequently coming from those who hated Bush most. I guess this celebrity President has something of a personality cult. This President has taken some huge steps in a terrible direction, in secret. Maybe he hasn't turned America into a fascist dictatorship, and maybe he never will. But the danger of precisely this President setting this precedent is deeply frightening.Trust is far less necessary when you have a transparent government. If you don't actually have to believe what you're told, but can go verify it for yourself, trust need not enter the discussion. The problem with secrecy is that it entirely requires trust. It removes all possibility of public verification and accountability. Hell, consider my little scenario from the second paragraph: Maybe the one who can't be trusted is Snowden, after all, and the good guys in white hats just can't tell us why because they would go to jail if they disclosed their arguments. Maybe. Do you really trust authority that much? What if you lived in China, and the Chinese government told you, trust us, these subversive elements are really bad, and we just can't tell you why, because national security. Pardon us while we eliminate them. Do you really trust your government enough to think that it is not susceptible to the same sort of corruption as other governments, because of things like Constitutional protections it brazenly ignores? I will never give anyone in authority that kind of pass. If you trust authority, you're a fool. Don't. Hit authority with the biggest stick you can find till it tells you the truth. Shout the truth in its face until it relents. Don't ever side with power—especially against your own freedom.I will not suggest that the Chinese government, for example, is not self-interested or self-serving when its organ says that Snowden has ripped off Washington's sanctimonious mask. But the remark is accurate. After the U.S. won World War II and then the Cold War, the only thing that prevented us from being an evil empire was our moral authority: that we respected human rights, civil rights, the rule of law, that we have peaceful transitions of power, strong protections for free speech, and so on. Even before Snowden's revelations, all of that was debatable, and some will strongly argue against those points now; and they have a point. But this is one of the last vestiges of anything that makes the United States different from the rest of the world. Now that the United States has thrown away its moral authority in the world, we really are nothing but the most powerful, self-interested state with a reach that extends around the globe. I'm pretty sure that's the definition of evil empire.There's definitely a nasty element of chauvinism, jingoism and nationalism in all this too. I don't think I can escape the conclusion that Americans are willing to trust their President because he's American. We have come an awfully long way, Baby, if all these affluent white people are willing to line up behind a black man conducting his affairs in secret. Just twenty years ago that would have been unthinkable, if you ask me. But the idea seems to be that he's one of us. A frequent childish argument is that we're all on the same team, like this is just a big sporting event. I, it seems, am just supposed to pump my arms and chant, “USA! USA! USA!” like my knuckle-dragging compatriots and desire nothing more than points for our team.If all you want in the world is that you, your family, your city, your nation come first and have more than others; if you are happy with the fact that our government has a long history of killing civilians elsewhere, and all you want is for your children to be safe, then maybe you ought to be able to see why certain people hate America. But if you're just cool with democracy and civil rights slowly running down the drain because you haven't personally felt it yet, then I assure you this: I am not one of you.

Post Script Images

Don’t forget to include a sales letter postscript
(243 x 132 - 6.86 KB - jpeg)

Postscript screenshot
(548 x 775 - 67.28 KB - jpeg)

What is PostScript and EPS?
(380 x 220 - 6.15 KB - jpeg)

Postscript Basics
(500 x 348 - 51.25 KB - jpeg)

No comments:

Post a Comment