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Jul 28 2013

Half way to Orwell-land

You may recall that in George Orwell’s book 1984, historical events and the documents recording them were regularly re-written to conform to what the current political situation required. The process involved taking existing publications, destroying them, and replacing them with new ones that said the opposite of what the earlier ones said, and then pretending that the old ones had never existed.

Via Techdirt, I learn that the Obama administration has started on the first phase, completely scrubbing its website of all the promises he made after his election in 2008, including those about providing strong whistleblower protections. According to the Sunlight Foundation that first reported the scrubbing, the site’s contents disappeared on June 8. It seems hardly a coincidence that the leaks about the NSA started appearing on June 5.

This is what the site’s ethics section used to say about whistleblowing.

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.

That is gone. Now all that remains is for a new page to suddenly reappear saying the opposite to make the Orwellian process complete. Since I am good, loyal, member of the authoritarian state, I have decided to help out by providing the appropriate wording, so that the Obama campaign’s promise would now read as follows.

Protect Punish Whistleblowers: Often the best worst source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism treason, which can sometimes save cost lives and often save cost taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged stifled rather than stifled encouraged. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs enablers of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect punish federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing covering up whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have will be denied full access to courts and due process.

He can then say that he has fulfilled a campaign pledge.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    Unfortunately for the administration, technology which has evolved since Orwell wrote 1984 has made changing history far more difficult. Any number of folks have downloaded material from the White House web site, in addition to the Google wayback machine. As they say, rots of ruck.

  2. 2
    smhll

    Thank you for boosting the signal on this point.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    Bothering to lie shows that, at least, you know what the truth is.
    Bothering to hide your hypocrisy shows that, at least, you know you’re a hypocrite.

  4. 4
    Jeffrey Johnson

    I doubt that history can be rewritten. There are plenty of web sites tracking and fact checking promises made, promises kept, and promises broken. The whole idea of a “promise” in politics is a bit naive, since nobody can control events. At best one can promise to make a best effort to work toward certain goals to the best of their ability, circumstances permitting. Pinning your hopes on a campaign statement as a “promise” rather than an indication of priorities and beliefs, is a bit too idealistic.

    Obama was certainly much more optimistic in 2008 than he had a right to be, and certainly the realities of the job knocked him on his ass pretty quickly. I think he soldiers on with remarkable poise and patience considering what he has to deal with.

    His biggest failure has been on transparency, and his failure to encourage whistle blowers. Of course a whistle blower on waste and fraud is different than a whistle blower on matters of national security and intelligence. It would help a lot if the opposition party would praise the revelations of whistle blowers as opportunities to work together to reform government and make it better, rather than using them as political clubs to bash their enemies by dishonestly manipulating the media and screaming Scandal and Impeachment every chance they get. But this party’s core principle seems to have become nihilism and nullification, that the results of democratic procedures don’t matter, that government can’t be improved and must be dismantled and destroyed, and that the only goal is getting the power to accomplish this vandalism. They are resembling the pre-civil war South more and more every year.

    Regarding this statement on the web site, I can’t decide what would be worse: leaving it up or taking it down. At least there is some honest acknowledgement of the facts in taking it down, while leaving it up would just perpetuate a forgotten dream, or as some would rather call it, a lie.

  5. 5
    machintelligence

    Bothering to lie shows that, at least, you know what the truth is.

    Not necessarily. See Mitt Romney, for example.

  6. 6
    Jeffrey Johnson

    One more thing: Orwell Land would probably be a pretty good place politically, since he was an articulate advocate of free and honest political speech, and a merciless critic of duplicity, authoritarianism, hypocrisy, and totalitarianism.

    It discredits the memory of Orwell, and could even be called a form of double-speak, to associate his name with totalitarian dystopia. Really it ought to be “Half Way to 1984 Land”, or “Big Brother Land”. I kind of like “Becoming Oceania” or “How We Lost Our Freedom and Learned to Love Slavery”.

  7. 7
    Corvus illustris

    With all due respect, I think that “Orwellian” and similar constructions are now so firmly embedded in the language (many languages!) that there’s no danger of their being taken pejoratively. “Orwell-land” is the place to which Orwell’s perception took us in advance. Oh, and it’s never inappropriate–particularly where the Obama admistration is concerned (John Kerry please copy)–to refer to Politics and the English Language.

    https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

  8. 8
    Jeffrey Johnson

    I realize people use it that way. I would bet, that if we could poll how many people know “Orwellian”, but don’t really know who Orwell is and how his name and ideas relate to the term, we would find a surprising number of people who just don’t know.

    You’re right, the cat is out of bag, or the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak, so it’s irreversible. And you are also right that most people who use it do know that Orwell was the messenger, not the guilty party, and I’m certain Mano knows it. I wasn’t so much correcting as recommending an alternative. Over time it’s the kind of phrase whose origins will be forgotten, say in a hundred years or more. There is an old phrase “jury rigged”, often seen as “jerry rigged”, and I’ve heard people swear that in “jerry rigged”, the “Jerry” refers to the Nazis, who were in fact called “Jerries” during and after the war. The phrase goes back at least to the nineteenth century though, as far as I know, and relates to improvised ship’s rigging, though I don’t know exactly how “jury” or “jerry” was adopted. There seems to be some dispute. Perhaps the Internet will refresh cultural memory enough that this phrase won’t be lost in history the way such coinages usually have in the past.

    But then it is probably true that Orwell wouldn’t mind so much about his personal legacy, as long as the concepts and warnings associated with his name actually acheived a lasting place in cultural history and cumulative cultural knowledge, so that some future generations may beware.

  9. 9
    Corvus illustris

    And with the master,

    … one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.

    Alas, the jackboots are alive and well. (Do I need a 8-) ?)

  10. 10
    Nathaniel Frein

    It’s really no different from “Machiavellian”. Machiavelli wrote The Price as a satire.

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