Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Dichotomy of....

Git some!

But it was in that charge that this administration -- this Democratic administration, headed by a former professor of constitutional law -- demonstrated its willingness, if not its eagerness -- to elevate information into a tin god to whom we are all suppliants, and against whom we have no civil rights worthy of the name.
The Pentagon Papers were so small in content they fit into a book.  I used to have a copy on my bookshelf; but it was so boring, I never got around to reading it.  I finally gave up my copy because I knew, despite whatever historical significance it had, I wasn't going to open it again.  And did it end the war, or change the national conversation?

Not really.

What Bradley Manning revealed seems to have been mostly gossip; which, unsurprisingly, is the conversation of diplomacy.  I tried reading a book recently on the British involvement in the American Civil War, and I drowned in the minutiae.  It was meticulously researched, right down to the tittle-tattle by diplomats (both British and American) about the personalities of everyone they encountered in either country.  ‘Twas ever thus, and after 150 years, apparently we’re safe in knowing all about it.

But who really wants to?

There is something almost new under the sun here, though it’s a difference of degree, not of kind.  Bradley Manning released, what, 700,000 documents? Someone on the radio said yesterday they were on the Internet now forever, that journalists would be writing about them for decades.

Somehow I think all the interest in what Manning released stopped with the videotape from the American attack helicopter in Iraq.  And all that told us was how much real life is just like “Full Metal Jacket.”  What, we didn’t know men with big guns would use them to annihilate people on the ground?  That’s shocking, that war is hell and atrocities occur, or at least what seems to us to be senseless violence?  Where are my smelling salts?

But what Bradley Manning did is release 700,000 documents.  On a thumb drive; or a CD; or something small and portable.  He took out a small library worth of information in the palm of his hand.  He also had 100,000 State Department cables on a workplace computer; almost 500,000 documents related to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan on an SD drive; and 10,000 cables on his MacBook.  (Per Wiki, but I checked the footnotes and I'm fairly satisfied those numbers are accurate).  To respond to that kind of loss of material, to react to that amount of information transferred to an insecure location, is not necessarily to make information a “tin god.”  Funny turn of phrase, too, since information is the product all governments trade in.  But set that aside:  has this Administration truly gone over the edge in trying to prosecute information thieves?  Or are they faced with a crime previously impossible in human history, and now so easy even a Bradley Manning or an Edward Snowden can do it?  Is there not some kind of problem here?

Both Snowden and Manning seem to have been driven by the same motivation:  to start a “national conversation.”  Well, that’s also what motivates Ted Cruz or Michelle Bachmann or Steve King.  They want a “national conversation” conducted on their terms.  Jerry Falwell wanted the same thing when he alleged that Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster killed.  There are conversations, and there are conversations.  Dr. King sparked a national conversation, too; but he went to jail for it, more than once; and people got beaten for it, more than once.  And it took three Administrations before a President finally responded to it.

Where am I going with this?  I’m not sure myself, except that I don’t think the Obama Administration is signaling the return of Torquemada because they are trying not to be the Administration that let the information dam burst, that let all the data horses escape and the teraflop barn burn down.  And I’m bemused by people who pay no attention to the daily functioning of the criminal justice system suddenly declaiming “prosecutorial overreach.”  We have the highest percentage of our citizens behind bars of any industrialized country in the world.  Prosecutorial overreach is a feature, not a bug, of the system.

As for Bradley and Snowden: color me unimpressed.  Their motivations mean less than nothing to me, since they had no treasonous intent.  They weren’t paid spies of a foreign power; they were young men who thought they understood the world and who, in middle age, may well wonder what they were so excited about when they were young.  The consequences of their actions, however, reach far beyond what they did.  They are the vanguard of this brave new world; the first fruits of the Information Age.  Government runs on data the way a car runs on gasoline, and the new technology makes it easier to get that data out of those banks than to siphon the gasoline from a car’s tank.  So easy anybody with access to a USB port can do it, and walk away with more material than can be digested in a decade.

Aye, there’s the rub.


  1. So rich in points, where to start.

    "We have the highest percentage of our citizens behind bars of any industrialized country in the world."

    Ah, but, as the sometimes heard whining about the Friday night prison program on MSNBC shows, those folks are not PLU, they're "those people." Other than a Mumia or a Leonard Pelitier or a Bradley Manning, they're as forgettable as other largely poor people in the hands of the government.

    to start a “national conversation.”

    Someone pointed out that when people say they want a "national conversation" these days, they mean they want a TV show hosted by someone like Jim Lehrer having the usual media talking heads on. Things have truly gotten worse with TV becoming the filter of consciousness.

    "because they are trying not to be the Administration that let the information dam burst, that let all the data horses escape and the teraflop barn burn down."

    Brilliant point, it could be shortend to "trying to avoid getting blamed for the eventually inevitable by the Republican Party attack machine and the media that comprises that attack machine. I think that almost all of Democratic foreign and all of Democratic administration military policy has been motivated as a reaction to the that Republican-media tag team. It is one of the greatest reasons that Democrats won't do the rational, such as ending wars, gets into them or goe along with them. Until the media is broken up, Republican-corporate control of it destroyed, it be required to tell the truth and serve democracy, things will only get worse and Democrats and real liberals discouraged and weakened.

    "a crime previously impossible in human history, and now so easy even a Bradley Manning or an Edward Snowden can do it?"

    If I were Obama, or rather, if her were I, I'd use this to attack the practice of contracting out everything and tightening who has access to really important information. I'd also use it to diminish unnecessary classification of information. But one thing Obama is, he's a team player and the teams are all corporate entities with corrupt motives such as getting government contracts. Obama is weakened by being a thoroughly vetted fixture of that establishment and wanting to be. Sometimes I think that's practically inevitable with Ivy Leaguers.

  2. As I try to recall how long I have been concerned about privacy on the internet, I'm forced all the way back to when I first began to use the internet to send emails. When I timidly commented on the early blogs under my first pseudonym and then my second pseudonym, I had no real confidence that my identity was hidden.

    My mobile phone company has records of my calls. Google and Facebook have loads of my information. That's life in the age of the many technical devices and programs we deem necessary for our day to day convenience. So I should be frightened to learn that the government has that same data? Well, perhaps I should be, but I'm not.

    The Thought Criminal, in your final paragraph, you say what I want to say. I'm more concerned about the feds contracting out access to national security information.

    Also, TMI, as we say on the intertubes. Having so vast a collection of data seems to me to make it easier to miss vital information about security as the program did with the Tsarnarev brothers, who slipped through the cracks of the enormous apparatus.

    And I sign with my real name, which anyone interested in knowing who I am can find out simply by visiting my blog.

    June Butler