Monday, June 24, 2013

"Just One More Detail":
American Surveillance And The Unanswered Question of Israel

In my previous post, I looked at the campaign of personal denigration against NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, with a special focus on Lawrence O'Donnell's June 12th interview with Mavanee Anderson (video, transcript), Snowden's friend from his time in Geneva. I emphasized the particularly bizarre segment where O'Donnell tries to paint Snowden in the colors of Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden all at once, by showing, and quizzing his guest on, an excerpt of Paul speaking at a Republican presidential debate. As I indicated, Mavanee Anderson did not take O'Donnell's bait, and refused to participate in any speculative mind-reading of Snowden, but O'Donnell couldn't resist pressing further:
There was "just one more detail" of this interview that we should mention. As if Ron Paul and Osama Bin Laden weren't desperate enough ploys, O'Donnell goes yet another bridge too far, and pops a question that seems to have come from Mars:

O'Donnell: And just one more detail of that kind. Anything about Israel? Ron Paul, for example wants to end all aid to Israel? Was that something that Ed Snowden thought about very much?

Anderson: Sorry, I wouldn't -- again, that's not something I would know.

Anything about Israel? Where the hell did that come from?
With this question, O'Donnell was probably trying to elicit some indication that Snowden is critical of Israel, on the assumption -- I think, and hope, incorrect -- that any such attitude would render Snowden persona non grata for O'Donnell's audience.  It was a ploy that, again, did not work with Mavanee. It did, however, inadvertently, open the door.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Edward Snowden, Lawrence O'Donnell, and the Failure of Fuzzy Land Thinking

Per SOP, since Edward Snowden began revealing the details of the NSA's Orwellian surveillance program, establishment pundits have been doing their best to denounce his actions and denigrate the man personally. This is an easy task for the reflexively authoritarian segments of the American audience, for whom denunciations from the likes of Peter King, John Boehner, or Dick Cheney will do. For the large audience of those who think themselves of an educated, liberal mind, with serious concern for issues of rights and privacy, a somewhat more complex assault on Snowden's actions or his person is necessary -- something that rings of those same concerns, and gleams with the patina of an intellectual exercise.

Thus, out come the big intellectual-ish guns, loaded up with some logical-ish ammunition, in order to oh-so-complexly critique what Snowden has done. For example, we hear from Geoffrey Stone, Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, who hired Barack Obama to teach constitutional law:
[I]t’s extremely important to understand that if you want to protect civil liberties in this country, you not only have to protect civil liberties, you also have to protect against terrorism, because what will destroy civil liberties in this country more effectively than anything else is another 9/11 attack. ... So it’s very complicated, asking what’s the best way to protect civil liberties in the United States.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Social Network, NSA Version:
"They took those programs that I built and turned them on you"

Laura Poitras's short take on William Binney, 32-year NSA veteran who quit the Agency in October 2011 when he saw the deep data-mining capabilities he had helped to develop for foreign intelligences turned on Americans, in violation of the NSA charter and the Constitution. This was published by the New York Times last year, well before any act of Edward Snowden.
"That gives you an outline of the life of everybody in the community.  ... That involves anybody in the country.  Even Senators, House of Representatives, all of them."
You'll learn a lot in 8 minutes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

“No matter what the law actually says”:
The Snowden Revelations and the Eternal Surveillance State

The sudden cascade of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden through Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Laura Poitras in the Guardian, and Barton Gellman in the Washington Post has provided stark confirmation of our worst fears about the American government’s contemptuous disregard for our most fundamental rights.  As Greenwald, speaking on Democracy Now, succinctly summarizes the extra-Constitutional world we now live in:
[T]he objective of the NSA and the U.S. government is nothing less than destroying all remnants of privacy. They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another, things that we say to one another, things we do with one another, places we go, the behavior in which we engage, that they know about it, that they can watch it, and they can store it, and they can access it at any time. … It is vital, in their eyes, for them to have full and unfettered access to it. And they do. [Emphasis mine]
Every single time is what they want, and – digitally, at least – they have it.

It’s hard to overestimate how radical this is. Any serious discussion about this issue has to begin with a clear understanding of what we are talking about.  We have to understand not only this or that discrete program – the Verizon/telco “metadata” order, Prism, Boundless Informant, etc. – but the whole matrix of the supercharged surveillance state that has been constructed over the past twelve years, of which these programs are the building blocks.  We also have to understand the legal-constitutional and ethico-political premises and consequences of this new techno-social construct.  It’s hard to overestimate how thoroughly this parasitic entity has already embedded itself in our polity, and how difficult it will be to extricate ourselves from it.  Referring to the East German secret police who kept voluminous, detailed records on virtually everyone, Daniel Ellsberg is on the mark when he calls what we’re becoming “The United Stasi of America.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pictures of the World

Yesterday, I posted this map on the Polemicist Facebook page:

After seeing some of the responses, I realized that many people may never have seen, and are not aware of, the famous Peters Projection Map, and the issues it addresses: 

To summarize the issue:  As pointed out on the Peters Map site, any flat map has a problem "projecting" a three-dimensional globe on a two-dimensional surface, and any such map will introduce some distortion.  No map will show both the size and shape of geographical formations accurately.  The map with which we are all familiar, the Mercator projection map, which was designed around 1659, was not designed to depict relative sizes of continents and countries accurately, but to show the shapes of continents fairly well.  The Peters Map, first presented by Dr. Peter Arno in Germany in 1974 (and first published in an English-version in 1983), is an equal area map that shows all countries, continents or oceans according to their actual size, and makes accurate comparisons possible.

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