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Dec 23 2013

We were more free under Nixon than we are under Obama

Edward Snowden has been unfavorably compared to Daniel Ellsberg: both leaked classified documents that exposed government wrongdoing, but Ellsberg was brave enough to stand and face the legal system. Now Ellsberg himself repudiates that argument. America has changed over the last 40 years. We now live in a country that actively suppresses whistle-blowers, with a lapdog media that colludes in maintaining government secrecy.

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.

I remember the Nixon years, and thinking it was a disgrace to be living in a crook’s regime. Who would have thought I’d someday be living in that same country, with a slightly more liberal Democratic president, and be pining for the days before Reagan?

84 comments

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  1. 1
    David Wilford

    This is somewhat dated, but still pertinent:

    https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/06/prosecuting_sno.html

    Do read the comments too.

  2. 2
    Gregory in Seattle

    It shows just how far the Overton window has shifted to the right. Nixon was impeached for illegally bugging his political opponents; nowadays, the government bugs hundreds of millions of people with Congressional approval, justifying it as “necessary for the public good.”

    We have become a fascist democracy, but only if you allow for a loose interpretation of “democracy.”

  3. 3
    a_ray_in_dilbert_space

    I wonder how much of this is increased technological capability and how much of it was due to the fact increased vulnerability we feel after the first real attack on US soil since the War of 1812.

    Not that any of this excuses the stupidity of the spooks. I suspect they are just gearheads who are given a problem to solve and set about employing all the means at hand without thinking about consequences.

    There is no stupid like that of an engineer or physicist working on a good problem.

  4. 4
    kevinalexander

    I always smile at the irony when someone refers to the Reagan ‘revolution’. It was the clearest example of a counter revolution in that it cancelled the gains made since 1776. You’ve gone from being the property of the British Lords to being the property of the Pentagon Lords. The other difference is that the Tea Partiers have been conned into joining the Redcoats.

  5. 5
    left0ver1under

    Gregory in Seattle (#2) -

    We have become a fascist democracy, but only if you allow for a loose interpretation of “democracy.”

    Most of the world, especially the democracies, have recognized the US as a fascist democracy for decades. It’s only in recent years that Americans are starting to see it that way too. Americans are only removing the blinders from their eyes because their government is trying to put up more of them.

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    @left0ver1under #5 – It’s the “frog in a pot on the stove” phenomenon, I think.

  7. 7
    ludicrous

    Snowden risked everything for us If we can make good use of this chance to turn things around, perhaps someday we can properly express our gratitude.

  8. 8
    Jackie, all dressed in black

    Sad, but true.

  9. 9
    Rob Grigjanis

    Gregory @2:

    We have become a fascist democracy

    For accuracy and succinctness, I’d go with kleptocracy.

  10. 10
    Natasha

    All very true except I would say we live under a slightly more conservative Democratic president. Nixon after all was a Keynesian and imposed wage and price controls.

  11. 11
    Bronze Dog

    For all the talk of freedom, there just doesn’t seem to be any real concern among the general public. Freeze Peach is invoked to tell critics to shut up, showing that there’s a lot of people who just don’t understand the concept. Our right to a fair trial is threatened by the plea bargain system, conviction bias in forensics labs, corrupt cops who’ll do anything for a drug bust or to show off their military surplus toys, and for everyone not living on easy mode, systematic racism and sexism. Our right to privacy is met with wanton disregard for the fourth amendment.

    Our freedom of religion is under assault by fundamentalist Christians who want public forums for their nativity displays so long as no non-Christians put up displays. When we suggest they put those displays on their private lawns and churches, we’re accused of persecution. Many of our military leaders persecute their own soldiers for being non-Christian, so how can we talk about them protecting America’s promised freedoms?

    When I voted for his first term, I had some naive hope that Obama would straighten out Bush’s abuses, particularly torture. I would have grudgingly accepted pardoning the Bush administration if Obama came down hard on anyone who continued to torture. Apparently even that was hoping for too much. It’s a wake up call when you realize that torture isn’t considered controversial in your country, has many ready defenders, and the mainstream media uses the shiny new euphemisms.

    It’s bad enough when people are willing to ignore the suffering it causes. It’s even worse when they also refuse to recognize the inherent deceit in using torture. The innocent will often give false confessions to end the pain because it doesn’t permit them to put deep thought into their long-term best interests. Not everyone can be Giles Corey. The guilty can pretend to break and tell semi-plausible lies and have them declared the infallible truth of heaven because they were obtained under torture. If conventional interrogation gets an implausible, counter-intuitive, or inconvenient truth out of a suspect, torture will get them to change their story to reinforce the investigator’s preconceptions. If you know enough about the situation to be confident you can get the truth out of the victim, why do you need to torture him at all? Follow those other lines of evidence, instead. Interrogation by torture is monstrously immoral not merely because of the suffering it causes, but because it’s inherently ineffective at accomplishing what people claim it’s for. It’s not only ineffective, it’s counter-productive because it privileges falsehood over truth. And then the enemy has a chance to claim the high ground when they find out what you’ve been doing.

  12. 12
    Pierce R. Butler

    We have not (yet) had our Kent and Jackson States.

  13. 13
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    This is an issue that goes beyond being a Democrat or a Republican. There is not going to be a mainstream politician who will get backing while actually trying to dismantle the surveillance state. The state will always place it’s own survival above that of the rights of the population that lives within it. And most people will go along with it under the belief that only through the state can their diminishing rights be kept.

  14. 14
    Rob Grigjanis

    Goodbye Enemy Janine @13: Yes. Campaign finance reform is the sine qua non of US politics, and most people support it. Regarding Citizens United vs FEC;

    In a Washington Post-ABC News poll in early February 2010 it was found that roughly 80% of Americans were opposed to the January 2010 Supreme court’s ruling. The poll reveals relatively little difference of opinion on the issue among Democrats (85 percent opposed to the ruling), Republicans (76 percent) and independents (81 percent).

  15. 15
    A Masked Avenger

    So much truth in the OP and the discussion thread that I want to weep–for joy to see people “get it,” and for sorrow that too few do, and that our country has become fascist to a degree that previous dictatorships could only dream of (minus actual genocide, thankfully).

    My comment for years has been that every president has made me miss his predecessor. Obama making me miss Bush certainly took some doing, but he somehow rose to the challenge and did it anyway. Mostly be perpetuating and expanding Bush’s policies.

  16. 16
    Lou Doench

    Please people. Please stop misusing the term “fascism” to apply to political opponents you disagree with. It’s lazy incendiary rhetoric. Whatever the USA’s flaws are (and they are many), we aren’t a fascist state in any sense of the word.

    Fascists sought to unify their nation through a totalitarian state that promoted the mass mobilization of the national community[5][6] and were characterized by having a vanguard party that initiated a revolutionary political movement aiming to reorganize the nation along principles according to fascist ideology.[7] Hostile to liberal democracy, socialism, and communism, fascist movements shared certain common features, including the veneration of the state, a devotion to a strong leader, and an emphasis on ultranationalism and militarism. Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation[5][8][9][10] and asserts that stronger nations have the right to expand their territory by displacing weaker nations.

    If you want to talk about the drone wars, or the NSA scandals that’s fine. If you feel the need to lionize a libertarian weasel like Snowden, we can argue about that. But the the US is fascist is so far down the rabbit hole that you might as well get a guest spot on Glenn Beck. Yes, the US is resistant to democratic change (all states are). Yes we have acted and will continue to act in shitty ways both domestically and internationally. None of that makes us Fascists yet. In fact it makes it more difficult to actually fight real fascists and neo-fascists.

  17. 17
    Lofty

    This is the future I predicted the morning I woke up and heard about 9/11. The ramping up of unfettered surveillance into every ordinary person’s life. It’s a prediction I would have dearly liked to be wrong about. Sadly electronic surveillance is such an easy tool to use I suspect no spook organisation can resist using it to the full.

  18. 18
    MJP

    I’m not sure if he’s misgendering Manning, or simply using the male name/pronoun because he’s talking about her during a time period before she openly identified as female. This stuff is complicated.

  19. 19
    applebeverage

    MJP: That’s still misgendering either way. Unless you meant that the quote itself is dated and was originally spoken before Manning came out. The article linked is dated July 7 with no year attached.

  20. 20
    Robin Raianiemi

    “Bradley” Manning?

    “Bradley” Manning?

    Sorry, it’s Chelsea Manning, and she is properly referred to by the feminine pronoun. Even when I read things supporting what she’s done for our country, her gender identity is routinely disrespected.

    That just sucks pinesap.,

  21. 21
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    Lou Densch# 16

    were characterized by having a vanguard party that initiated a revolutionary political movement aiming to reorganize the nation along principles according to fascist ideology.[

    You mean like the Republicans are doing?

    hostile to liberal democracy, socialism, and communism,

    Hmm, now why does this sound familiar? I wonder…

    , a devotion to a strong leader

    Have you noticed the Reagan worship? Did you catch the way supporters talked about Dubya? How about the efforts to mold Cruz into ‘The Next Reagan”?

    and an emphasis on ultranationalism and militarism.

    Because declaring war on a third of the planet in the name of American Exceptionalism doesn’t smack of that in the least.

    Fascism views political violence, war, and imperialism as a means to achieve national rejuvenation[

    Oh wow, where have I been hearing this rhetoric lately? PNAC, is that you?

    asserts that stronger nations have the right to expand their territory by displacing weaker nations.

    Hmm. What has the U.S. spent the last decade or so doing again, remind me?

  22. 22
    Rob Grigjanis

    applebeverage @19:

    The article linked is dated July 7 with no year attached.

    Ellsberg wasn’t misgendering whatever the year (unless the year is after 2013).

    Manning, Aug 22, 2013:

    I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun

  23. 23
    Rob Grigjanis

    Further to my #22, A Personal Message to Chelsea Manning by Daniel Ellsberg.

  24. 24
    mikeyb

    I would call it neo-fascism. You’re free to think whatever the hell you want, and ignored, as long as you don’t seriously interfere with profits. Look at Chomsky or Bernie Sanders or even Paul Krugman. Eminently sensible arguments are just dismissed in the service of the corporate 24/7 entertainment state.

  25. 25
    amandac

    To be fair, no truly fascist state would let people get away with some of the things they say about Obama.
    I do have to say that much of the definition is truer than I would prefer it to be, though.

  26. 26
    Reginald Selkirk

    #15: Obama making me miss Bush certainly took some doing, but he somehow rose to the challenge and did it anyway. Mostly be perpetuating and expanding Bush’s policies.

    Yes, while the extent of government surveillance has gone to extreme measures, these are not programs Obama started. Virtually all of them began under Bush/Cheney. Obama does shoulder some of the blame for continuing hte programs, and also for being so harsh on whistleblowers.

  27. 27
    fabianocaccin

    @ Rob Grigjanis

    For accuracy and succinctness, I’d go with kleptocracy.

    One can use that word when they’ve spent a year in Italy. We ‘re quickly evolving into a coprocracy though.

  28. 28
    anuran

    Nixon was, on his record, the last liberal in the White House.
    Carter was the last President to push back at all against the National Security State.
    Reagan would be too far to the Left for today’s Republicans.
    Eisenhower would be considered a looney-tunes Communist by both Parties today.

    And we are screwed.

  29. 29
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Lou Doench #16 – Fascism is a political dogma based on the supremacy of state authority over individual wants or needs. The name comes from the fasces, sticks bound together into an unbreakable bundle, used by the Etruscans and Romans to represent the power of the state, and also representing how weak individuals create a strong whole. Fascism draws its power from business and commercial interests, and secures that power by fostering a sense of paranoia among the populace against “foreign influences” because “everyone else is out to get us.”

    This is exactly where the United States is today, and the Democrats do just as much to promote this as the Republicans.

  30. 30
    rorschach

    Americans are only removing the blinders from their eyes because their government is trying to put up more of them.

    An apathetic and/or uninformed populace definetely helps. Here in Australia for example we are now 100 days into one of these fascist kleptocracies, the country is being run by a few high school mates, brown people are locked up in offshore camps, the media is largely controlled by pro-government moguls, and the Australian people don’t care or don’t even notice, as long as we win the cricket and the sun shines so we can go to the beach.

  31. 31
    A Masked Avenger

    amandac, #25:

    To be fair, no truly fascist state would let people get away with some of the things they say about Obama.

    True–and likewise all of his predecessors. But the total surveillance state makes possible a “soft” fascism, whereby people like Chelsea Manning–who actually threatens the interests of the powerful–can suffer the full weight of the government’s wrath, while the rest of us can be more or less ignored safely. Thanks in part to a compliant media, the terms of discourse are established so that even those who criticize the current administration are probably clamoring over essentially meaningless distinctions, like whether the military should be using drone strikes or putting “boots on the ground.”

    Reginald Selkirk, #26:

    Obama does shoulder some of the blame for continuing hte programs, and also for being so harsh on whistleblowers.

    …and initiating the doctrine that the president can wage war not only without asking Congress, but in the face of Congressional resolutions declaring the absence of war. Or the doctrine that the President can order the death of an “enemy combatant” on his say-so, and can decide on his own authority who is or isn’t an “enemy combatant.” Bush was evil, but Obama managed to carry the ball into the end-zone of totalitarianism. It remains for a future president to expand Obama’s precedents to include unilateral imposition of death sentences on people who don’t have funny names like Awlaki, or who aren’t standing on foreign soil when the hammer falls. Obama has effectively affirmed the power to do both of those things, when he promised not to exercise that power.

  32. 32
    chrislawson

    Rorschach@30:

    I share your disgust at our current government, but the Australian populace is not nearly so apathetic as you say. In the first 100 days of government, which is traditionally a time when new incumbent governments get a big rise in the polls, the Abbott government’s popularity has dropped precipitously.

    The election (7 Sept 2013) had a 2-party preferred vote to the Coalition of 53.5% : 46.5%, a massive 8% margin with a subsequent massive shift in seats to the Coalition.

    In the most recent polling (24 November 2013) shows that the margin has already swung to a solid Labor majority of 52% : 48%. That’s a huge swing of 12% in just over 3 months. It’s the biggest lead Labor has had in years. The Coalition has already managed to burn most of its political capital before it even gets its hands on the legislative crank-handle. There’s a long way to go yet, but I suspect this will be a one-term government (although maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part).

  33. 33
    wbenson

    @ Rob Grigjanis

    For accuracy and succinctness, I’d go with kleptocracy.

    With unrestricted computing power and instantaneous access to public and private opinion, I would say Big Butt’er rules over a manipulocracy.

  34. 34
    alkaloid

    Here’s what I consider to be a vitally important question though: having seen what the Obama administration has actually done since the 2008 and 2012 elections, would you vote for him (or someone who shares his views) again in the future?

  35. 35
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @alkaloid:

    Yes. Because the alternative is worse.

  36. 36
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    alkaloid #34 What viable (likely to win the election) alternative is available? If only a rethuglican, yes Obama or someone like him. Much better than the alternative.
    Logical fallacy: if A is bad, B must be better.

  37. 37
    alkaloid

    Then what have you actually learned, since given a chance you wouldn’t actually attempt to even change anything?

  38. 38
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Then what have you actually learned, since given a chance you wouldn’t actually attempt to even change anything?

    What part of the Rethuglicans would be worse than Obama don’t your understand alkaloid? You haven’t shown they would be better, just presumed they would be better.

  39. 39
    alkaloid

    @Nerd of Redhead, #38:

    The entire starting premise of this blog entry was the statement (and corresponding evidence) that “We were more free under Nixon than we are under Obama”. If much of the continued existence of the Democrats seems to be predicated on just being not as bad as the Republicans openly while furthering the same trends that eventually will be used against us all as atheists, then doesn’t that imply that the strategy of continuing to support the Democrats in order to avoid these outcomes is a bankrupt one?

    It would be easier for you if you just came out and admitted that you don’t expect politics to really change anything important in this country…but if you did, what would be the point in criticizing people who made different choices from you?

  40. 40
    tomtethys

    The American Government has been so frightened of a repeat 9/11 it will “protect” you no matter what. Nothing will shift it from this course. Individual liberty has to give way to the safety of the herd even as that “safety”creates more problems. It’s the perfect circle.

  41. 41
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    alkaloid,

    I’m not American, but I usually have to choose between my own versions of (center) left and right. If you don’t go for the lesser evil… what should you do? Which choice is not bankrupt?

  42. 42
    alkaloid

    @Beatrice, #41:

    I’m saying that it would be a good idea to develop a politics and support those parties that don’t buy into being satisfied with being the lesser evil. Hasn’t decades of just supporting the lesser evil and complaining about it afterwards been precisely what has gotten us to this point?

  43. 43
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @alkaloid:

    Do you know what the spoiler effect is?

    Third parties often align more to the left or right (the Green Party is left, the Libertarian Party is right.) By voting for your preferred third party, you’re essentially taking a vote from your preferred mainstream party.

    What you and your ignorant “just vote third party” parrots are asking us to do is essentially put the fucking right-wing conservative nutjobs in power. “Make a protest vote” is essentially “give up your rights for four years.”

    Do you know what protest votes get us? The 2010 elections – good fat lot of good that’s done.

    Go play with your little Sim towns by yourself, people who actually understand shit are talking here.

  44. 44
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    then doesn’t that imply that the strategy of continuing to support the Democrats in order to avoid these outcomes is a bankrupt one?

    No, you haven’t shown that the Rethugs wouldn’t be as bad or worse than Obama and the Democrats. No third party candidate would be viable. So, what real and practical alternative do you have? Nothing….

  45. 45
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    I’m saying that it would be a good idea to develop a politics and support those parties that don’t buy into being satisfied with being the lesser evil.

    Fine, you shut up here, and you go and start that political party with your time and effort.

  46. 46
    alkaloid

    @Nerd of Redhead, #45:

    You wanted to vote for the lesser evil. You did so. You have no right to complain about it now then if you have no intention to do anything about it ever because this is essentially what you are saying.

  47. 47
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    @alkaloid:

    We have no choice but to vote for the lesser evil, and yes we can complain about it.

  48. 48
    Rey Fox

    You know, if you’re in favor of voting for progressive candidates at the local level, building up support from the ground up, getting these candidates into primary elections at state and federal level, and attempting to change the preferred party or building up a viable third party in these ways, you should probably just say so, instead of beating the tiresome and insulting “lesser of two evils is still bad” drum.

  49. 49
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You have no right to complain about it now then if you have no intention to do anything about it ever because this is essentially what you are saying.

    You asked about the future. Show me a viable (meaning electable) alternative, or shut the fuck up.

  50. 50
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Alkaloid, I’m old and primary caregiverfor a handicapped wife. I can’t take part in building any political party as I have no time for it. You make the new/rehashed political party viable, or get the laws changed to allow for an Australian style ballot, then I can look at your candidate.

  51. 51
    A Masked Avenger

    I don’t have an alternative to offer, and I don’t need to–I just have an observation: politely asking our rulers not to abuse their power is like politely asking slavers to divest themselves of slaves, or politely asking patriarchs to dismantle the patriarchy. It’s attempting to reform from within a system designed to resist reform and perpetuate corruption.

    Nerd of Redhead, you asked for a “viable” alternative candidate–but the fact that no non-evil candidate is “viable” is not an accident. Viability is a quality assigned by the system itself.

  52. 52
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd of Redhead, you asked for a “viable” alternative candidate–but the fact that no non-evil candidate is “viable” is not an accident. Viability is a quality assigned by the system itself.

    Viable means enough people like your policies compared to the others they will vote for you in an election, enough so you could win. Since I don’t understand your point, perhaps you should explain.

  53. 53
    alkaloid

    @Rey Fox, #48

    You wrote:

    “You know, if you’re in favor of voting for progressive candidates at the local level, building up support from the ground up, getting these candidates into primary elections at state and federal level, and attempting to change the preferred party or building up a viable third party in these ways, you should probably just say so, instead of beating the tiresome and insulting “lesser of two evils is still bad” drum.”

    Then I am just saying so: I am in favor of building up a viable third party. However, I don’t see why the “lesser of two evils is still bad” concept is either tiresome or why it should necessarily be insulting to you if you haven’t insulted me first. This is especially true since it would be the motive for building up such a third party, instead of doing it just on the basis of whim.

  54. 54
    unclefrogy

    here is something interesting. The “tea Party” has pushed the republican agenda further to the right as has the christian right and the liebraterians but they are not really third (except maybe the liebraterians) but by making their views known loud and clear. in the case of the tea party they are a wholly manufactured group supported by some shadowy financial backers.
    there was no real effort to start a third party it was far easier to just push/pull the republicans further to the right.
    The Left has become some what discredited in the public eye in that same time since Nixon. People who once were unashamed to be labeled liberal now water down there words.
    More Occupy? maybe, politics dose not move by wishes it is moved by human voices the more there are and the louder they are the more movement.
    it is time for the 1% to pay their fair share for the privileges they enjoy from the work of the masses not just here but world wide. The people, the producers and consumers of economic output have been separated by international boarders while corporations have not and have colluded to keep the people from organizing and make us compete against each other instead.
    setting up who is “the enemy” when it is more accurately the 1% – 2% who benefits out of this existing order not the workers in Chinese or Bangladesh .
    uncle frogy

  55. 55
    Al Dente

    In 2000 we saw what voting for a third party candidate did. Ralph Nader was supposedly more progressive than Gore (although a millionaire who wears the same suit for a week strikes me as a pseudo-populist). The Florida voters who voted for Nader enabled Bush to be elected. So the greater of the evils was elected because Nader’s ego needed stroking.

  56. 56
    A Masked Avenger

    Nerd of Redhead, #52:

    Viable means enough people like your policies compared to the others they will vote for you in an election, enough so you could win. Since I don’t understand your point, perhaps you should explain.

    That’s not what viability means. That’s what many people think it means, because we overlook the fundamental system that constrains us, like the proverbial fish overlooks water.

    I alluded to the fact that the media functions largely as a propaganda machine, for example. Under Bush, it powerfully reinforced Bush’s claim that Saddam was going to have nukes by Christmas if the US didn’t invade promptly. Dissenting voices were not suppressed, but it didn’t matter: the administration’s message was repeated so much more loudly than any dissent, that even many liberal opponents of the president accepted the fundamental premise that Saddam had a nuclear program–few or none recognized the reality, that his nuclear ambitions were turfed a long time ago and there wasn’t a ghost of a trace of a nuclear program in Iraq (which, few hastened to add, was under continual bombardment and aerial surveillance for most of the previous decade). Much of the debate that did occur centered around trivialities, like whether we should conduct aerial bombardment only or “put boots on the ground.” I.e., a debate in which the invasion of Iraq is taken as a given, with only the tactics up for debate.

    The media’s servility to the administration is driven by lots of factors, a major one being the need for “access.” If a news organization meaningfully calls the administration on its lies, its journalists will find their press passes revoked, their sources dry up, their invitations to Washington parties (where they collect much of their “news”) evaporate, etc. So they don’t. As Colbert accurately summarized, they accept press releases from the government and type them up. They limit dissent to editorial pages, or mild questions, or tepid “some critics say” counterpoints.

    For its part, the government disseminates disinformation directly, in false press releases or calculated “anonymous leaks,” but it also operates in more insidious ways. For example, coverage of the war on terror involved extensive use of “retired military” commanders, who turned out to be on the defense department’s payroll to disseminate the Pentagon’s message.

    Apart from propaganda, there is gerrymandering, which insures that incumbents are reelected–at a rate no less than 85% since 1964, but usually above 90%.

    There’s also the party system, which among other things exerts a powerful influence over who rises to the national stage, and serves as a channel of collusion between the executive and legislative branches by imposing consequences for nonconformity to the party line. Laws are passed at every level to ensure not only the security of incumbents, but above that the security of the party itself. For example, some states have absurdly high petition requirements to list third-party candidates on the ballot, or impossibly early deadlines, etc. The party can indirectly restrict media access by third-party candidates, through its elected members, and conversely can exploit its easy media access to smear and attack those candidates.

    To avoid turning this into an essay, the point is that the system is designed at every level, down to the smallest borough, to resist any threats to the system continuing exactly as it is. Any meaningful reformer will be denied a platform by the only two parties whose candidates are “viable”; nearly insurmountable barriers (multiplied 50-fold) are in place to running outside those two parties; the media will give deny access to the reformers, give disproportionate access to the establishment candidates, and will actively smear and make a spectacle of the reformers; etc.

    And if you do manage to be one of the 111 third-party congress people that have been elected since 1877, then you will find yourself a lone voice in the wilderness. Both parties will block you at every turn. To have a noticeable effect, you would need something like 40 colleagues working with you–i.e., around 10% of the body, about the size of the Black Caucus.

    You’re proposing something exactly analogous to convincing the slaveowners to dismantle slavery unilaterally, in the face of an entire society built around the institution, or of convincing the patriarchy to dismantle itself voluntarily, again despite an entire culture structured around patriarchy.

  57. 57
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    alkaloid:

    You wanted to vote for the lesser evil. You did so. You have no right to complain about it now then if you have no intention to do anything about it ever because this is essentially what you are saying.

    Can you explain why an individual loses the right to complain about a candidate they supported?
    Showing support for a candidate does not mean an individual agrees with every political opinion held by said politician. I see no reason why anyone should (or be made to) withhold criticism.

    Also, does the notion of if you support it, you can’t criticize extend beyond politics? I often have no choice but to support Wal-Mart, despite my disdain for the company. When there’s nothing else open at 11:30 pm and I need to purchase cat food so my kitties don’t starve, there is no choice but to go to Wal-Mart. Should I lose my right to complain about them when I buy items from there? Why? What’s the justification?

    Or does if you support it, you can’t criticize only apply when dealing with political officials? In which case, I’d ask, why does this idea only apply to supporting people?

  58. 58
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    alkaloid:

    However, I don’t see why the “lesser of two evils is still bad” concept is either tiresome or why it should necessarily be insulting to you if you haven’t insulted me first

    Are you aware that Romney continues to support the War on Women, and favors the continued discrimination of LGBTQ? Did you know that Obama does not support either?
    “Lesser of two evils” is what we’re stuck with at the moment. Yes, supporting a grassroots network is a great idea, but since that won’t happen overnight, and elections are going to keep happening, I’d prefer to vote for the individual that will do *less* damage. That doesn’t make Obama a good choice. It makes him the *not as bad as…* choice. Not voting for him would be effectively giving a vote to Romney.

    You know, the guy who supports the War on Women.

  59. 59
    David Wilford

    A Masked Avenger @ 56:

    That’s not what viability means. That’s what many people think it means, because we overlook the fundamental system that constrains us, like the proverbial fish overlooks water.

    Like it or not, the current system of government that we have is the one we’re swimming in, so Nerd’s definition of viability is reasonable to apply in the context of U.S. politics.

    Third parties can and do succeed (see the New Democratic Party in Canada as an example of that), but as long as you’re going to have majority rule, the tendency is to have two basic sides, one that’s in the majority and the other that isn’t but would like to be. Each side isn’t a monolithic party either, but an amalgamation of groups that have enough interests in common to unite as a political party. A successful third party eventually becomes either a party in power or a party in opposition, and not much else.

    There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.
    – Jim Hightower

  60. 60
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You’re proposing something exactly analogous to convincing the slaveowners to dismantle slavery unilaterally, in the face of an entire society built around the institution, or of convincing the patriarchy to dismantle itself voluntarily, again despite an entire culture structured around patriarchy.

    Nope, what I’m proposing, is that folks who want a third party actually get involved in local politics, and start trying like hell to elect progressives instead of moaning a groaning about it. Do the real work, not have others do the work. Why not take over the Democratic party, since the old saying goes: “I’m not a member of an organized party, I’m a Democrat”. Do to the Democratic party what the religious right did to the rethuglicans. Turn the party to where you want it to be. Hard, long work, but far, far easier than trying to make a third party viable without one of the present parties imploding.

  61. 61
    Pierce R. Butler

    Al Dente @ # 55: The Florida voters who voted for Nader enabled Bush to be elected.

    Please stop repeating the lies generated by Democratic Party hacks to cover their flabby asses. Quite a few more Florida Democrats voted for Bush in ’00 than voted for Nader.

    In the final analysis, Gore’s failure was Gore’s fault – but he had lots of help, including a state party apparatus here in Fla that allowed Jeb! Bush, Katharine Harris, and numerous county election supervisors to steal enough of the election that a corruptly partisan Supreme Court could finish the job. None of the Democrats in a position to do anything about it fought back in either a timely or effective way then, and about all they’ve done about it since was to run a candidate in ’04 so feeble and complicit in his own loss as to make Gore look puissant by comparison.

  62. 62
    benjamincano

    I really gotta call bullshit on this idea that Snowden is some kind of whistleblower hero.

    Disclaimer, IANAL, but I’m going by reporting by Pete Williams, NBC News justice correspondent.

    First, Snowden didn’t expose anything illegal conduct, fraudulent, wasteful or abusive. Some people have argued that the programs revealed by Snowden are illegal or unconstitutional. For now, they are presumptively legal, given the assent of members of Congress and the FISA Court.

    But even if I grant that Snowden exposed illegal conduct, he’s still not a whistleblower. The Federal Whistle-blower Protection Act protects the public disclosure of “a violation of any law, rule, or regulation” only “if such disclosure is not specifically prohibited by law.” In other words, Snowden could claim whistle-blower protection only if he took his concerns to the NSA’s inspector general or to a member of one of the congressional intelligence committees with the proper security clearances.

    In a more general sense, though, I fail to understand the surprise and outrage Snowden’s revelations generate. I don’t buy this BS, we were more free under Nixon.

    Fact is, we have yet to invent a form of communication that our government hasn’t been reading over our shoulder. In the 1940s, Western Union was cooperating with the NSA’s predecessor to provide copies of every incoming or outgoing telegraph. No caveat there — no mining of the meta-data, no differentiation between foreign and domestic cables — they were just turning over all of them.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=VqY4Wr3T5K4C&pg=PA133&dq=under+the+nsa+program+codenamed+shamrock&hl=en&sa=X&ei=MnC3UsT3DpHpoASn9YKABA&ved=0CDEQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=under%20the%20nsa%20program%20codenamed%20shamrock&f=false

    This is public knowledge, by the way. It is because of the Church hearings and FISA that we know this; the very program that so offended Snowden that he blabbed about it to Greenwald.

  63. 63
    mervinferd

    As bad as Nixon? This is not a statement worthy of serious consideration.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kent_State_shootings

    When I see some indication that some American has actually been monitored, interrogated, imprisoned, shot or harassed by the NSA, I’ll take this seriously.

    Snowden, Greenwald, Assange et al are Right Wing Libertarian Absolutists. Why liberals find it necessary to idolize these guys is beyond comprehension.

  64. 64
    Pierce R. Butler

    mervinferd @ # 63: When I see some indication that some American has actually been monitored…

    Uh, do you know what the word “monitored” means?

  65. 65
    Ichthyic

    Nixon after all was a Keynesian and imposed wage and price controls.

    He was also the ONLY post WWII leader of ANY western nation to even attempt to open the debate regarding world overpopulation and what to do about it.

    it was, and still is, the single largest underlying issue humanity faces.

    deal with it, and soooooo many other problems become no longer an issue.

  66. 66
    Ichthyic

    …Nixon’s main problem was he apparently suffered a mild form of schizophrenia, and saw enemies everywhere, whether they existed or not.

    he made …. lists…

  67. 67
    Ichthyic

    I remember the Nixon years, and thinking it was a disgrace to be living in a crook’s regime.

    I recall, quite recently, living uder the W regime, and thinking how much of a disgrace it was to be living in a mobster’s regime who not only was a thieving crook, but a mass murderer besides.

    I paid taxes that enabled the deaths of hundreds of thousands for little more than vanity.

    I couldn’t live with that, so I left. I refuse to contribute to a system where the biggest military the world has ever seen is abused at the whim of selfish children, and millions pay the price.

    how is it that so many have managed to live with it? really, I just don’t understand. Tell me.

  68. 68
    Rex Little, Giant Douchweasel

    We were indeed more free under Nixon than Obama, but that’s not because of Nixon or Obama. The whole system has had nearly 40 years since Nixon left office to move in the direction of less freedom.

    I have nothing good to say about Obama, but Nixon, LBJ and (of course) Dubya were worse. There are others on that list as well, but they were all before I was born.

  69. 69
    Ichthyic

    Snowden, Greenwald, Assange et al are Right Wing Libertarian Absolutists. Why liberals find it necessary to idolize these guys is beyond comprehension.

    Rand Paul is a pile of old monkey crap. doesn’t mean I can’t agree when he says he thinks we should stop the war on drugs.

    a lot of liberals have said the same thing.

    likewise, whether any of these clowns are liberatarians or not, it doesn’t affect the information they have provided.

    I saw nobody else stepping up to do it, did you?

    comparisons would be grand if a true progressive had managed to access this kind of data and make it public.

    none did.

    so, guess what? I can agree with people on some things, and tell them they are complete asshats on others.

    do you see where I’m going with this?

  70. 70
    mervinferd

    Ichthyic:

    In what material way are you “less free”?

    Repression means that people go to jail, are publicly humiliated, get shot….

    I’m old enough to have been politically active under Nixon. We were paranoid and for good reason. You assumed there was an informer in the meeting. You assumed the Narcs could plant a little marijuana in your pocket if you got too loud. And ultimately, we had Kent State and Jackson State and we knew what it was really about.

    But, as Saul Alinsky said, “Get real”, it wasn’t a totalitarian regime: leaders spoke out, published books–and continued to walk the streets.

    Even now, Russians who criticize Putin wind up in jail. Pussy Riot got several years for bad music. People from the anti-Putin demonstrations are still in prison. And, China doesn’t even pretend to tolerate dissent. “Get Real”.

    So, where’s the oppression? Who is intimidated? I see people posting their opinions of the President openly, who’s worried about it? Greenwald has become an international celebrity and publishes openly. His worst complaint is that his same-sex partner was detained for a few hours at the London airport. Under Nixon, both would have been in jail for their sexual preferences. Under a truly repressive regime, they would disappear. How are they “less free”?

    The NSA collects terabytes (or petabytes) of data. But, what can they do with it? You can’t ‘monitor’ 300 million cell phones. There is the -risk- of abuse: presumably the database could be mined for information on individuals. The fact that a dweeb like Snowden had access to that information proves there is a need for reform. BUT, systematic abuse requires staff and budget and TELLING PEOPLE YOU ARE WATCHING!

    You can’t intimidate people without telling them you are intimidating them.

    The data are already owned by functionaries of giant corporations–Google, Verizon, MSFT. These corporations know more about us than the NSA ever will and could use that information in totally nefarious ways. But, we are not concerned. Why? Because to a Libertarian “the Government” is reified as a monolithic Black Beast that is unambiguously evil.

    But, remember, the surveillance began because of 911. Stopping another such attack is an entirely legitimate enterprise.

  71. 71
    David Wilford

    O.K., other than create the federal income tax, end Prohibition, start Social Security, create the minimum wage, pass the Civil Rights Act, and pass the Affordable Care Act, what have the Democrats ever done for us?

  72. 72
    David Marjanović

    the first real attack on US soil since the War of 1812

    Complete rubbish. It was a terrorist assault, differing from the previous terrorist assault on the World Trade Center only in that it was more successful.

    The Florida voters who voted for Nader enabled Bush to be elected

    Wrong. Under any legal way of counting the ballots, Gore won. What enabled Bush to be elected was the Supreme Court Injustices, who restricted the right to vote to themselves and voted for Bush with a 55.555 % majority (5 : 4).

    it was, and still is, the single largest underlying issue humanity faces.

    deal with it, and soooooo many other problems become no longer an issue.

    Birth rates are dropping all over the world except in fundamentalist Muslim countries. This holds even for cases where it means that the average number of children per woman has dropped from 8 to 4 in the last few decades. In 2001, a paper was published in Nature showing that if all else stays as it is*, the world population will have begun to drop before the end of the century, and may well be lower in 2100 than in 2000.

    * That means assuming that Peak Oil won’t have an effect. Given today’s “oil into potatoes” agriculture, I don’t really want to think about that any further.

  73. 73
    Inaji

    Ichthyic:

    I couldn’t live with that, so I left. I refuse to contribute to a system where the biggest military the world has ever seen is abused at the whim of selfish children, and millions pay the price.

    how is it that so many have managed to live with it? really, I just don’t understand. Tell me.

    Your privilege is showing. I think it’s great you had the means, opportunity, and ability to leave. That doesn’t mean everyone else has, or had, the same means, opportunity and ability to do the same.

  74. 74
    Gregory in Seattle

    @Al Dente #55 – The same, tired old lie about Nader. What you people willfully fail to remember is that exit polls showed 11% of all self-described Democrats voted FOR BUSH. These people who betrayed their own party had far more impact on the 2000 election, as the same exit polls showed that a large majority of Nader’s voters would not have bothered voting at all in a race with just Gore and Bush.

  75. 75
    David Wilford

    Nader was a spoiler in 2000 and probably cost Gore both Florida and New Hampshire, either of which would have given Gore the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win. There are plenty of other what-ifs but it’s obvious that Nader was one that hurt Gore.

  76. 76
    benjamincano

    “What you people willfully fail to remember is that exit polls showed 11% of all self-described Democrats voted FOR BUSH. These people who betrayed their own party”

    Betrayed the party? I was unaware that party affiliation required 100% voter compliance.

  77. 77
    alkaloid

    @Davis Wilford, #71

    “O.K., other than create the federal income tax, end Prohibition, start Social Security, create the minimum wage, pass the Civil Rights Act, and pass the Affordable Care Act, what have the Democrats ever done for us?”

    That would be a good argument for voting for the Democratic Party-forty years ago. (It should also be pointed out that Prohibition began under a Democratic President as well.) For that matter, Woodrow Wilson isn’t exactly someone that you should really be all that proud of for a lot of reasons, although I won’t lie and say that the Democratic Party in its current incarnation is the same as it was then.

    This brings me to my main point: the Democratic Party as it is exists now is in no way the same institution that it was in the past (and I know it had its flaws then). How many of the Democratic politicians now would propose measures that are equivalently radical as social security or the civil rights act were when they were proposed-much less actually support them? It’s a vanishingly small proportion.

    Instead, the modern Democratic Party is this:

    “SAN JOSE — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was heckled and booed by liberal activists Saturday when she said that Edward Snowden broke the law when he revealed classified information about secret surveillance programs.

    Another round of disapproval came when the former House speaker said Americans’ rights to privacy must be balanced with the nation’s security needs.

    Snowden “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents,” she said during a luncheon Q-and-A on the closing day of Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of thousands of liberal activists and bloggers.

    The crowd erupted in boos.”

    The modern Democratic Party is not doing anything about Bush v. Gore, not doing anything about Citizens United, not doing anything about the reversal of the Civil Rights Act from the Supreme Court. It’s mass school closures in black neighborhoods from Rahm Emanuel and gutted pension plans. It’s the same policies of police repression whether the mayors involved call themselves Democrats or Republicans. It is endless excuses for never changing much of anything that’s wrong like the ones provided above-combined with endless demands upon their voters.

    It’s very faithful for you to continue to support them.

  78. 78
    David Wilford

    alkaloid, I’m sure John Boehner gave the Netroots Nation audience an answer about Snowden it liked better. Got a link?

    In the meantime, from the link in the first comment (ahem) in this thread:

    Edward Snowden broke the law by releasing classified information. This isn’t under debate; it’s something everyone with a security clearance knows. It’s written in plain English on the documents you have to sign when you get a security clearance, and it’s part of the culture. The law is there for a good reason, and secrecy has an important role in military defense.

    Schneier is right, and so’s Pelosi.

  79. 79
    Rutee Katreya

    In 2000 we saw what voting for a third party candidate did. Ralph Nader was supposedly more progressive than Gore (although a millionaire who wears the same suit for a week strikes me as a pseudo-populist). The Florida voters who voted for Nader enabled Bush to be elected. So the greater of the evils was elected because Nader’s ego needed stroking.

    More democrats voted for Bush than Nader. Seeing leftists repeat this bullshit propaganda is what kills my hope for a proper third party emerging and displacing the Democrats.

    so, guess what? I can agree with people on some things, and tell them they are complete asshats on others.

    That’s sincerely great. I even sincerely believe you when you say you do.

    But come on, have you NOT seen the idolatry of these dudes amongst liberals?

    Edward Snowden broke the law by releasing classified information. This isn’t under debate; it’s something everyone with a security clearance knows. It’s written in plain English on the documents you have to sign when you get a security clearance, and it’s part of the culture. The law is there for a good reason, and secrecy has an important role in military defense.

    Right, and that ‘good reason’ and ‘important role’ is the perpetuation of the police state USAnians are increasingly living in. Yeah, Snowden broke the damn law – and it was the correct fucking decision.

  80. 80
    Lofty

    Rutee Katreya

    Yeah, Snowden broke the damn law – and it was the correct fucking decision.

    Agreed! Whistleblowers are important.

  81. 81
    Al Dente

    Rutee Katreya @79

    More democrats voted for Bush than Nader. Seeing leftists repeat this bullshit propaganda is what kills my hope for a proper third party emerging and displacing the Democrats.

    Don’t get your hopes up for a viable third party. The Republicans and Democrats wrote the rules in such a way that any third party is doomed.

    Also if a third party wants to establish itself it needs to start at the bottom. Nader’s Green Party candidates consisted of Nader and the seven dwarfs. In my home state, there were literally seven Green Party candidates in 2000, Nader, his running mate and five others. One Green candidate got elected as an alderman. Five local candidates do not constitute a viable political party.

  82. 82
    millssg99

    Americans of the 60′s and 70′s were very much more anti-authoritarian than Americans of the 21st century. The scary thing to me is that when I hear talk among people I know about the NSA and government spying it is the young people who seem to be much more comfortable with it. I have no idea whether that is true across the country or not but in my tiny sphere of the world it is the young that don’t seem to care.

    Helicopter parents, oppressive and intrusive schools, nanny companies and governments, all seem to be having an effect (or are the effect). Privacy is in the sh*tter.

  83. 83
    David Marjanović

    when I hear talk among people I know about the NSA and government spying it is the young people who seem to be much more comfortable with it.

    Comfortable, or just cynical?

  84. 84
    millssg99

    Comfortable. They don’t seem to care. It’s the old hippies that are outraged. I honestly think that all the oppressive and intrusive institutional behavior (in the name of safety or some other crap excuse) is having an effect. Also I’ve never thought of the young as generally as cynical as older age groups but perhaps I’m losing touch.

    The difference in the “nannyness” of school between when I attended in the 60′s and 70′s and when my daughter attended in the 80′s an 90′s was enormous. Same thing at work. The difference between when I started 30 years ago and now is unbelievable. The whole culture is much more concerned with what everyone is doing, thinking, believing, etc. than it used to be. I don’t mean people weren’t passionate but they were more likely to leave other people alone. That’s my read on it anyway. Could be wrong. Memory tends to be selective. My school didn’t monitor real-time location of student by giving them badges with chips. I have to believe even if the technology existed the thought would have never crossed anybody’s mind.

    In many ways we are far more tolerant now than then. In other ways less so. One of the less tolerant ways in my opinion is the right to have some kind of private life. The thought of walking around London getting my pictured snapped 100 times a day gives me the willies.

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